Over a month ago, under the cloak of night, a lone graffiti artist spray painted an homage to a 19-year-old Sag Harbor resident killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Two weeks later, the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge, under which the graffiti artist penned the red, white and blue, Captain America-themed tribute, was officially renamed the Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge. And now, this week, the state has announced that it will not seek to have the illegally painted mural removed, but instead will allow it to remain as another honor to Lance Corporal Haerter’s young life.
On Tuesday, December 2, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. announced that the mural would be allowed to stay, rather than be repainted by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). The bridge is state property, and is maintained by the NYSDOT.
“Certainly, the village does not condone defacing public property, but this is not a village owned structure so we have no authority,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris. “I am glad the memorial will stay and it is a tribute to Jordan. I hope it will be there as long as its integrity is still there.”
Following the mural’s creation, state officials had confirmed that they would allow the artistic display to remain under the bridge through the rededication ceremony honoring Lance Corporal Haerter on November 15. In addition to re-naming the bridge after the fallen marine, a granite obelisk memorial was also unveiled that stormy morning in Lance Corporal Haerter’s name next to Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor.
Lance Corporal Haerter was killed in Ramadi, Iraq on April 22 during his first month of duty as a Marine in overseas combat, along with Corporal Jonathan Yale of Meherrin, Virginia when a suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint they were guarding, detonating the vehicle.
Lance Corporal Haerter’s death had a profound effect on the Sag Harbor community, where he was raised by father Christian Haerter and mother JoAnn Lyles and graduated Pierson High School. The community gathered in collective mourning to welcome Lance Corporal Haerter’s body home in Sag Harbor, lining the streets and the cemetery, paying tribute to the sacrifice the young Marine made for his country.
And it seems another person, who remains anonymous, only known publicly by the tag “AMP 26” was also touched by Lance Corporal Haerter’s sacrifice, first spray painting a bench near the 19-year-old’s grave site with the words “thank you,” and then completing the mural weeks later. A man identifying himself as “AMP 26” called The Express office shortly after a police report indicated the spray painting of the bench was a “desecration.” “AMP26,” speaking through a device that changed the sound of his voice, maintained that his work was a “tribute,” not a desecration.
“AMP 26” is not unfamiliar to Sag Harbor Village Police or Southampton Town Police, who have logged numerous reports about graffiti in Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, but have yet to catch the individual in the act.
The decision to allow the mural to stay, for now, said Thiele on Wednesday, was in part due to the effort of a letter writing campaign in support of the graffiti art.
“I had gotten somewhere between 20 and 30 letters requesting the mural be kept, mostly from Pierson High School,” said Thiele.
Thiele said he reached out to the New York State Department of Transportation after hearing reports that the mural would be removed as a part of regularly scheduled maintenance, but was informed the mural’s removal was not in fact imminent. Regardless, Thiele said he asked the NYSDOT for a commitment to allow the mural to stay as long as it is properly maintained.
“As long as it looks good and presentable, they will leave it be,” said Thiele.
Thiele said that the mural will remain as long as it is not defaced or begins to deteriorate. What will happen after that, he said, will depend on the wishes of community and government leaders in Sag Harbor.
“The mural is there to honor Jordan, and the person who put it there, that was their intention,” said Thiele. “If it is defaced or deteriorated it is not an honor anymore.”
“I understand the importance of the particular mural, to a family and a community that has endured an extremely painful loss. The artist is obviously very talented. I only wish he would use that talent in a more productive manner.”