A single act of heroism has been recognized this week with the renaming of the bridge in Sag Harbor and the announcement that L/Cpl Jordan Haerter will posthumously receive the Navy Cross.
Under steel gray skies two columns of American flags snapped in a strengthening breeze Saturday morning creating thin lines of red, white and blue on the edges of the bridge that connects Sag Harbor to North Haven. At the foot of the bridge, on the Sag Harbor side, tents shielded a couple hundred veterans, soldiers, dignitaries, family members and friends of Marine Lance Corporal Jordan Hearter, the Sag Harbor native who gave his life in Ramadi, Iraq earlier this year, defending his post against a suicide bomber. They had come to watch and pay respects as the decorated bridge was to be formally named after the war hero and in memory of other veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.Â Haerter’s parents learned this week that their son was also to posthumously receive the Navy Cross, a rare award and only two Marines have received higher awards in the past 30 years. Haerter’s commander, Lt. Col. Brett Bourne said in an email this week that, in his 20-plus years in the Marines, he had never served with anyone who had earned the Navy Cross.
In addition to the naming of the bridge, L/Cpl Haerter’s parents, JoAnn Lyles and Christian Haerter, unveiled a granite obelisk that now stands partially surrounded by a hedge just off the beach by the windmill. It is a place, noted Mayor Greg Ferraris, that Haerter spent many hours looking out at the harbor, and where, the mayor imagined in a his speech on Saturday morning, that Haerter contemplated his decision to join the Marines and what it meant for his future.
The obelisk, which had stood covered in a sheet of camouflage until the Marine’s parents unveiled it, is made of red granite, a color that echoes both the Marines and the colors of Pierson High School, from which Haerter graduated in 2006.
L/Cpl Haerter had only been in Iraq one month when he was defending a checkpoint in the city where a truck began careening down an alley toward his post. The driver defied several orders to stop, and was ultimately confronted by Haerter who pushed a fellow-Marine behind a barricade out of harms way and fired at the truck. The truck detonated, killing Haerter and another Marine, but Haerter’s actions are credited with saving 33 other Marines stationed further up the alley, dozens of Iraqi policed and hundreds of Iraqi civilians, said Lt. Col. Bourne who was sleeping the morning of April 22 when he was awakened by the sound of the 2000 pound truck bomb exploding.
Haerter’s death and the subsequent response it brought from Sag Harbor sustained the battalion through difficult times, said Bourne, who is commander of Haerter’s battalion.
“We watched Jordan’s funeral from films made by Marines who were here; and letters and pictures of Jordan were in every nook and cranny in ever bombed out building and rubbled place where we had Marines sleeping,” said the commander.
“It made the long months in Iraq immeasurably more meaningful by the axis of Jordan, Christian and JoAnn, and Sag Harbor,” he said.
It was Haerter’s mother, JoAnn who offered the most emotional comments Saturday morning, speaking to the dozens of Marines —Â many of them from her son’s First Battalion, Ninth Marines, known as the Walking Dead —Â who had come to Sag Harbor specially for the ceremony, and many who were seeing their own parents for the first time since going into the service.
“Welcome to Sag Harbor,” she told them, and urged them to enjoy what the village had to offer.
If her son was here to show them around, she said, he would have taken then “four-wheeling on Dirt D or on the ocean beach, test you aim at the gun club or start up a paint ball war.”
They could have gone to his grandmother’s house for her homemade bread with butter or cheese, or maybe pick from her blueberry bushes.
Reflecting on the life of her son and the challenges young people face she observed:
“Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction.”
Jordan set himself a goal when he decided to join the Marines as he was preparing to leave Pierson, and “he challenged himself to that goal,” said Ms. Lyles, and “had transformed himself in his senior year.”
“I’m confident that Jordan found his true direction.”
L/Cpl. Haerter’s father, Christian, applauded the people of the community and the Marines who had such an influence on his son.
Jordan’s heroism was a “culmination of the truly shining life lived here in the safety and seeming innocence of our Sag Harbor.”
“Today is not so much the memorialization of a man and a Marine,” he continued, “as it is a celebration of the community that molded him. As I look around through my tears, I see many of you who positively influenced Jordan’s life. And gave him direction and taught him the meaning of brotherhood and bravery, and ultimately brought him home to us.”
Other speakers included Congressman Tim Bishop, who called the memorial “a way for the community to say that a hero walked these streets;” and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy who observed that, generations from now, when someone might ask who the man was whose name is on the bridge, those in the audience can say, “he was a man who gave his life so that you can live in the freest place on the face of the Earth.”
The effort to name the bridge was driven in state government by native son Assemblyman Fred Thiele and co-sponsored by Senator Ken Lavalle.
Quoting novelist F.Scott Fitzgerald, Thiele said “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
He said the vote to approve the name change was, of course, unanimous. But he said it gave him the chance to read into the record the legislative findings, including recounting L/Cpl Haerter’s actions that day.
The morning ended with no small amount of ceremony. As the speakers filed out from under the tents and made their way to the foot of the bridge and behind a red ribbon stretched from side to side —Â the rumble of a helicopter and the whoosh of its blades slowly drowned out the Reverend Cardone speaking over the public address system, dedicating the bridge in L/Cpl. Haerter’s name.
The olive green chopper, with “Marines” emblazoned on the side, crawled across the sky, and took a position, hovering about ten feet above the deck of the bridge, where the span crested at a kind of horizon.
With dignitaries lined across the bridge, the ribbon was cut, and the way cleared for a phalanx including L/Cpl Haerter’s family, a Marine color guard and a contingent of Haerter’s comrades from the First Battalion/ Ninth Marines, who slowly and deliberately marched to the crest of the bridge, beneath the whirring blades of the helicopter, then disappeared beyond the horizon.
Earlier in the day the Rev. Cardone, speaking of L/Cpl. Haerter’s actions, observed: “no one shows greater love than this, than laying down one’s life for one’s friends.”