Seven months ago, residents in the village stood solemnly by as one of their own, 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, was brought home to Sag Harbor and laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery.
On Saturday, November 15, village residents will gather again for Lance Corporal Haerter, this time not to say goodbye, but rather, to honor and pay tribute to the first Sag Harbor resident killed in combat since World War II.
A formal dedication and unveiling of a public memorial at the foot of the Sag Harbor/North Haven Bridge will be held on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. The bridge will also officially be renamed by the State of New York “The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.”
Lance Corporal Haerter was killed in Ramadi, Iraq on April 22 during his first month of duty as a Marine overseas, 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 and Corporal Yale are credited with saving the lives of 33 Marines that day, as well as over 50 Iraqi police officers when they shot and killed the driver of the deadly vehicle.
The news of Lance Corporal Haerter’s death rocked the East End, and in particular the Sag Harbor community in which the young Marine was raised by father Christian Haerter and mother JoAnn Lyles. His funeral came days after a police escort through Long Island brought his body back to Sag Harbor, with fire trucks and residents lining the streets along the route paying tribute to the Marine and the sacrifice he made to his country.
After a service at the Old Whalers’ Church, he was laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery with military honors, while the whole of the Sag Harbor community looked on, seemingly unaware of the rain pelting the ground around them that day.
Since then, the community and government leaders alike have rallied in support of the creation of a monument Lance Corporal Haerter’s honor. Designed on a concept by Christian Haerter and his childhood friend, Tom Toole, the monument will feature a granite obelisk and will be placed on the waterfront, next to Windmill Beach on land donated by the Village of Sag Harbor. The monument was created, according to Christian Haerter, through donations to the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Memorial Fund – a fund created specifically for the monument.
Simultaneously, in May, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle co-sponsored a state bill to rename the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge “The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge,” honoring both Haerter and veterans before him.
“It is the intent of this act to recognize the ultimate sacrifice Jordan Haerter paid in serving his country and to honor all the veterans of Sag Harbor, North Haven and Noyac who have served our nation,” reads the bill, which passed both the assembly and the senate easily.
In July, after the villages of North Haven and Sag Harbor passed resolutions supporting the change, Governor David Paterson signed the bill into law.
On Saturday, as Christian Haerter put it, “the shroud will be lifted” on the sign at the foot of the bridge following the dedication of the monument on Windmill Beach and a ribbon cutting ceremony at the bridge.
According to Christian Haerter, veterans from the Sag Harbor area, representing each branch of service and major conflict, will take part in the ribbon cutting.
Depending on the weather, which is currently forecasting for rain, Haerter and Lyles have also planned a fly over of the bridge with four late-1950s vintage T-28 Navy aircraft. A Vietnam-era Marine helicopter will hover over the bridge during the ceremony, before flying to Mashashimuet Park where residents can view the historic aircraft. A luncheon has also been planned at the Sag Harbor Firehouse. Haerter said the Sag Harbor Fire Department has been an enormous help in helping to execute this special day for both his family and the community.
“We are just truly grateful they have offered us so much,” he said.
Perhaps one of the most special aspects of Saturday for Haerter will be that he and Lyles will share the day with not only family and friends, but also 41 members of Lance Corporal Haerter’s battalion – the first Battalion Ninth Marine Regiment. Members of the battalion, some of who were in Ramadi with Lance Corporal Haerter the day he was killed, will travel to Sag Harbor for the event; many on United States soil for the first time in months. According to Haerter the dedication was planned specifically to fall on a day those men could attend. A color guard from North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune is also slated to appear and Haerter expects veteran groups from across Long Island will also attend the service.
“We still have a lot of little things to do,” said Haerter on Wednesday. “I think we are pretty organized, but we really have to thank Tom Toole, retired from the Air Force and a childhood friend, who really took it upon himself to make sure this got done. He has known Jordan since he was a child and has a lot of heart invested in this.”
For Haerter, planning the event with Lyles has been a whirlwind and he said on Wednesday he has not had time to think about any private time he will take to remember his son on Saturday.
“Most of my day is taken up with thoughts of Jordan,” he said. “Saturday will be a very special day – just to see the honor that Jordan will receive, that his sacrifice is not going unnoticed. It is all about this local community. They have been just wonderful throughout this whole time, since Jordan died. The support has been absolutely amazing. But, yeah, I don’t know if I will do anything private for Jordan. I just know I think about him every minute, of every day.”
The dedication of the bridge and the monument in honor of Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter will begin at 10:30 a.m. at Windmill Beach at the base of the bridge in Sag Harbor. The Hampton Jitney has donated a shuttle bus the family is encouraging people to use that will depart Mashashimuet Park starting at 9:30 a.m. through 10:30 a.m. and will return following the ceremony. Ferry Road will be closed from the North Haven Roundabout to the bridge from 10 a.m. to noon and Bay Street will be closed from the American Legion to the bridge from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.Â