Less than two weeks ago, on a brilliant and blue Monday morning, Sag Harbor was awash in red, white and blue as residents lined Main Street in this small village to honor veterans both living and deceased in the annual Memorial Day parade.
Yesterday, Sag Harbor again looked ready for a parade, decked out as it was in its patriotic finery. But this time around, the weather was threatening and the Community Band wasn’t playing. The streets were still lined though —fire and police personnel stood at attention in dress uniforms while school children and adults waited with small American flags and hands over hearts to pay tribute to the East End’s latest casualty in the 21st century’s war on terror — 24-year old U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert.
Theinert, a graduate of Shelter Island High School, was killed last Friday near Kandahar, Afghanistan while attempting to disable an IED. He had strong ties to Sag Harbor — his father lives here and before going off to college, Theinert played on a number of local sports teams where he was much loved and admired by friends and coaches alike.
It feels unreal that this small community has had to bury its second war casualty in as many years. In April 2008, we gathered on Main Street to welcome home fallen Sag Harbor Marine Jordan Haerter, who at the age of 19, was killed in Ramadi, Iraq.
As we go to press, we are struck by the eerie similarities in these tragic losses — both Jordan and Joseph were in their respective war zones for an incredibly short period of time — just a month or so — before being killed. And in the act of dying, both men saved the lives of others. Jordan did so by preventing a suicide truck bomber from reaching a larger group of men beyond his position (he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross), and Joseph, by warning others to step back as he worked to disarm the IED that ultimately took his life.
No matter your position on this country’s involvement in the current conflicts, it was impossible to stand on Main Street yesterday afternoon and watch the black hearse with Theinert’s body go by without feeling a truly profound sense of loss. For this tight knit community, Jordan Haerter’s death made the notion of far off war a reality. Joseph Theinert’s death has made it incomprehensible.
God bless the Theinert family.