JoAnn Lyles and Chrystyna Kestler spent Tuesday morning driving together from the East End to Albany where their sons were posthumously honored as veterans. It was a bittersweet reminder that this holiday weekend is about more than the beginning of summer and is, in fact, a time to remember those who have given their lives, however young, for the freedoms enjoyed by those of us still living.
“It was a good opportunity for us to talk and talk and talk, share stories and tears,” said Lyles on Wednesday morning.
Lyles’ son, Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, and Kestler’s son, Army First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, were inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame on Tuesday afternoon in Albany. New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who nominated L.Cpl. Haerter and Lt. Theinert for the honor, and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., were on hand to share the moment with their families.
Of the over 60 individuals named to the Veterans’ Hall of Fame, L.Cpl. Haerter and Lt. Theinert were two of four veterans named posthumously.
“It was certainly a very special moment,” said Senator LaValle on Wednesday morning. “You could feel in the room that not only was this a special occasion, but with their mothers there, being Gold Star Mothers, people were teary eyed. Both of those young men gave the ultimate sacrifice at a very young age.”
A lifelong Sag Harbor resident, L.Cpl. Haerter, was the only child of Lyles and Christian Haerter, both of whom have since dedicated their lives to championing their son’s memory, as well as military and veterans’ causes through separate organizations — In Jordan’s Honor and Jordan’s Initiative.
A 2006 graduate of Pierson High School, L.Cpl. Haerter immediately enlisted with the Marines after graduation and became a member of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines known as the “Walking Dead.”
Just one month into his first tour of duty in Iraq on April 22, 2008, L.Cpl. Haerter and Marine Corporal Jonathan T. Yale were killed in Ramadhi defending a checkpoint from a suicide bomber driving a large truck. Their actions saved the lives of over 33 Marines, Iraqi policemen and Iraqi civilians.
L.Cpl. Haerter was 19 years old.
L.Cpl. Haerter was honored with the Navy Cross Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Iraqi Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon for his service.
Lt. Theinert, a 2006 graduate of Shelter Island High School, was the son of Kestler, a Shelter Island resident, and James Theinert, a Sag Harbor resident.
Lt. Theinert accepted an ROTC commission at Valley Forge Military Academy and College and after graduation enrolled in SUNY Albany, where he was accepted into Siena College’s ROTC Mohawk Battalion and earned a Bachelors of Arts degree in history.
In March of 2010, Lieutenant Theinert was deployed to Afghanistan. Just six weeks into his deployment, on June 4, shortly after securing the rest of his platoon after undergoing hostile fire, Lieutenant Theinert was killed by an improvised explosive device in Dand District of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
He was 24 years old.
Lt. Theinert’s awards include the Army Service Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal, the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge.
The loss of L.Cpl. Haerter and Lt. Theinert was deeply felt throughout the East End community, solemn homecomings were followed by moments of remembrance.
“The East End becomes a very special place on occasions like this because it becomes that small community where everyone rallies around the families and made sure those young men got the respect they deserved,” remembered Senator LaValle. “Both were so young, and their mothers became so close. They both had suits on in Albany, the same color blue.”
In late 2008, New York State renamed the Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge the Lance Corporal Haerter Veterans’ Memorial Bridge. The South Ferry’s “Southern Cross,” a ferry from North Haven to Shelter Island, was renamed after Lieutenant Theinert in 2010 shortly after a stretch of Route 114 was also designated the “Lt. Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way.”
“We feel connected,” said Lyles of Kestler, with whom she spent the day in Albany. “Even here, we have Jordan’s bridge that leads to Joe’s ferry.”
Lyles said the ceremony was an opportunity for her and Kestler to meet other veterans and share stories, while honoring their children together.
“Chris and I were talking about how it is almost easier with the loss of a child if they were in the military because there are so many more chances for remembrance,” said Lyles. “It’s not easy at these events, but at least I know to expect emotion so I can steel myself. It’s the normal days, where something happens that it is harder, like if someone sees Jordan’s picture on my desk and doesn’t know and asks me if my son is in the Marines. Those are the harder days, but I never want people to stop talking or asking about Jordan.”
“My thoughts are with both families,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride on Wednesday morning. “They were both courageous young men who supported this country and I am proud of Jordan and Joe for their efforts in making this country what it is today.”
“This was bittersweet,” said Assemblyman Thiele. “What they gave for this country has been well documented and it is great that the State of New York through the State Senate is recognizing their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. It is a great honor, but at the same time it is a reminder of their loss.”
Thiele will join Gilbride, as well as Lyles and Christian Haerter, countless veterans and government officials on Memorial Day to honor the veterans of Sag Harbor and beyond.
The parade will begin at 9 a.m. at the World War I monument at Otter Pond, continue down Main Street to Bay Street’s Marine Park and onto to the Chelberg and Battle American Legion Post 388.
“Something I have always been proud of is walking in many Memorial Day parades, either in uniform as a former Sag Harbor Fire Department chief or in a suit as mayor because I want to honor those who have come home,” said Mayor Gilbride. “It is a humbling day for someone like me because I can go to any one of the memorials and see my own family’s names and recognize the names of other residents from Sag Harbor that still have family here today. All I can say, is thank you.”
Above: New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle presents JoAnn Lyles with her son’s plaque inducting him posthumously into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.