November 19, 2008
Community Celebrates Life of Fallen Marine

By Lisa Finn

Sentiments were running high in Sag Harbor on Saturday as hundreds lined village streets to honor the life of a hometown boy who died a hero.

Rain was pouring and tears flowed freely as U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, 19, who died in Iraq this April, was remembered and honored.

Old Glory flew proudly over Sag Harbor and a Vietnam War-era helicopter hovered overhead in tribute to the fallen hero. Highlights of the ceremony included the unveiling of a granite obelisk monument dedicated in Haerter's honor, and the official renaming of the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge to The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge."

Haerter was killed in April in Ramadhi, Iraq, after a suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint he was guarding. Due to his sacrifice, the lives of over 30 Marines and 50 Iraqi police were spared.

On Saturday, tears mingled with pride and love as Haerter's parents joined elected officials and others to speak of a Sag Harbor native who died a hero.

Present were over 40 members of Haerter's battalion, 1st Battalion 9th Marines, also known as The Walking Dead. "They were his brothers," said master of ceremonies, retired Air Force Colonel and Sag Harbor native Tim Toole. "And they are our adopted sons."

The crowd was silent as Haerter's parents, JoAnn Lyles and Christan Haerter, took the podium to remember their boy.

"Now I am a Gold Star mother," said Lyles, referring to those parents whose children have died while serving their country. "It's a club no one wants to join. I miss Jordan every day."

But, she added, she wanted everyone present to "honor the life of Jordan."

Lyles invited Haerter's fellow Marines to imagine the things her son loved best about his hometown – paint ball and video games, the beach and visiting with his grandparents, sitting and dreaming in the very spot where his monument was unveiled. "Breathe," she said, "Take in this weekend in Jordan's Sag Harbor. Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

Haerter's father, Christian, thanked the Sag Harbor community for molding his boy. "Every one of you is a piece of Jordan."

Elected officials including Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle, who were instrumental in creating legislation to rename the bridge, as well as Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris, honored Haerter's life.

Ferraris spoke of Haerter's last letter home, in which the Marine expressed concern less for his own safety than "his mother's anguish." And, he added, the unveiled memorial stands as a testament to Haerter's "heart, grit, determination, sweat and tears."

Lieutenant Colonel Brett Bourne, commander of Haerter's battalion, spoke of how his death – and the outpouring of support from his Sag Harbor community – touched Marines still waging the battle in Iraq. Letters from the village and photos of Haerter, he said, "filled every nook and cranny, every bombed out building and pile of rubble," as his fellow troops remembered their fallen comrade.

"While we mourn the unwritten chapters of his life, we celebrate how vividly he lived," he said.

Congressman Tim Bishop summed up the emotions of many when he said: "This is bittersweet. This ceremony doesn't bring Jordan back."

Bishop commended Haerter's family for the dignity with which they have borne "unspeakable pain."

Members of the community dried tears as they filled seats under a tent and listened to the tributes.

Bridget and Guy Squires have a son serving in the Army Rangers. Remembering Haerter, Bridget's eyes filled with tears. "No matter how old, it's your child."

Water Mill resident Ronald Grzybowski, whose son is serving in Iraq, had tears running down his face. "I'm not an emotional person, but this gets me. How can I not say thank you?"

"The author F. Scott Fitzerald wrote: 'Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,'" noted Assemblyman Thiele.