By Kathryn G. Menu
At 6 a.m. on April 22, Chris Haerter will quietly remember his son, Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, while adorning the bridge named after the fallen Marine with American flags.
“We don’t do a public thing for the anniversary of his death,” said Haerter this week. “But I put those up and that is my way of letting people know it is a special day to be remembered.”
On April 22, 2008, Lance Corporal Haerter, a rifleman with the 1st battalion 9th marines of the United States Marine Corps, was killed in action in Ramadi, Iraq defending an entry control point from a truck carrying an improvised explosive device manned by a suicide bomber. As a result of Haerter and Corporal Jonathan Yale’s actions, the truck was stopped before the entry point, detonating 2,000 pounds of explosives and killing the marines, but saving the lives of an estimated 50 Marines and Iraqi policemen.
The 19-year-old Sag Harbor native was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Since his son’s death, the elder Haerter and his partner Michelle Severance have created a memorial foundation to honor his heroism. Jordan’s Initiative aims to support members of the armed services and their families through financial assistance and care package drives, and honors Sag Harbor students committed to volunteerism through an annual Community Spirit Award.
This year, Jordan’s Initiative has expanded with two pilot programs – Operation Garden Rescue and Wheels to Freedom.
Operation Garden Rescue is a program geared specifically towards aiding veterans from Sag Harbor, by providing one veteran with a complimentary yard and garden renovation this spring.
“Michelle and I were brainstorming about different projects that could involve the community because we think it is important to not only recognize our veterans, but also involve the community so they can develop a greater appreciation of what our veterans have done,” said Haerter on Monday. “We first started out by doing the care package drives, and it worked out so well we thought this could be a great way for community volunteers to give back.”
A pilot program Haerter hopes could expand in years to come, Haerter said once a veteran is chosen, through a random lottery, Jordan’s Initiative will bring in a professional landscaper to clear any major debris in the yard, and then will unleash 20 volunteers to edge the property and any existing flower beds, create new beds, plant new flowers, lay down mulch, weed and trim trees and bushes.
“If a mailbox needs replacement, we will do that also,” said Haerter. “And of course, we will put up an American flag.”
It is Haerter’s hope that an overall transformation will be accomplished in just one day’s time, and he added the organization will use this year’s experience to better the program, and ideally expand it, next year.
All military veterans in the 11963 zip code are eligible, and can sign up for the lottery at http://jordansinitiative.com or by sending their name, address, phone number and branch of service to Jordan’s Initiative, PO Box 2848, Sag Harbor, NY 11963 by April 15. The organization will announce the recipient the following day and plans to hold an organizational meeting for volunteers on April 27 at 7 p.m. at the village ambulance barn behind the Columbia Street fire house.
Haerter added interested volunteers, as well as businesses able to donate their services or products, can contact the organization at 725-2489.
The organization is also working with Hope for the Warriors, an organization dedicated to the care of wounded servicemen and women returning from overseas combat, to provide a wounded Marine from Haerter’s battalion with a custom designed adaptive bicycle. On May 15, Haerter will head down to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to formerly present the bicycle.
“Hopefully this will be an ongoing thing as well,” he said.
After the life altering experience of losing his only son, Haerter said Jordan’s Intiative has enabled him to feel he his keeping his son’s memory alive.
“If someone had asked me three years ago if I could be doing this today – running a foundation – I just could never have conceived it,” he said. “But everything we do, we do to keep Jordan’s light shining, that is what I like to say. I want him to always be remembered and this is a way of trying to make something good out of a tragic situation. It is kind of a healing thing for me and if we can help even just one person, it is worth it.”
The Sag Harbor community, added Haerter, has been unwaveringly supportive since Haerter’s death.
“The day we brought him home, for me, coming onto Main Street, the only thing I remember was stopping at the stop sign and seeing all the people lining the streets,” remember Haerter. “You could hear a pin drop. There was not a sound, not one person coughing, not one person talking, no babies crying. That meant more to me than all the tributes to him up and down Long Island.”
Haerter said since that tragic day, any time the organization or any organization for that matter, has needed anything, the Sag Harbor community has stepped up to the plate.
“It’s very special in that way,” he said. “Just to see how we all support each other.”
For more information on Jordan’s Initiative, visit http://jordansinitiative.com.