By Andrew Rudansky
U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert was killed by an improvised explosive device last Friday, June 4, 2010 while serving with the 10th mountain division in Afghanistan. He was 24 years old at the time. An East End native who divided his time between Shelter Island and Sag Harbor, 1st Lt. Theinert was mourned by both communities.
1st Lt. Theinert had been in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, stationed just south of the city of Kandahar for only one month when his dismounted patrol came under enemy fire. According to his commanding officer, 1st Lt. Theinert and his men were forced into an area that was known to have IEDs. He disabled one of the IEDs and was working on disabling a second when the device was triggered. Before the device exploded Lt. Theinert was able to warn the men under his command to get back, saving their lives.
“We live in a very self-centered society and he is my example of a selfless person,” said 1st Lt. Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler. Kestler described her son as “steadfast…a patriotic child who worked very hard to get where he got in life.”
Christine M. Cava, 1st Lt. Theinert’s sister-in-law called him “a man who lived out his dreams of serving his country and gave his life to keep those closest to him safe.”
James Theinert, 1st Lt. Theinert’s father, a Sag Harbor resident, was the first family member to be notified of his son’s death at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 4. He did not wish to comment on his son’s death.
1st Lt. Theinert attended Shelter Island High School, where he ran for the Pierson-Shelter Island Cross country team and was co-captain and midfielder for the Ross Ravens Lacrosse team, which also included students from Pierson and Shelter Island. Lacrose coach Joe Silvey said, “He was a tremendous player. He was the heart and soul of a young club.” Silvey said that he saw leadership skills in 1st Lt. Theinert before he joined the military.
“He was a real leader, and he did it mostly through example: through hustle and effort,” said Silvey.
1st Lt. Theinert was remembered as much for his humor as his dedication. Kestler described her son as a master of the one liner.
“When Joey said something it was either going to be shape up or something that was so funny you would remember it for days,” she said.
Kestler said her son had wanted to be in the military from an early age, first bringing up the subject when he was as young as six years old. She remembers Joseph and her other sons playing army games in the back yard.
After graduating high school in 2006, Theinert enrolled in the Valley Forge Military College, and then SUNY Albany where he received his bachelor’s degree. That same year he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant through the Siena College Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.
“Joey was one of those quiet, steady people,” Kestler said.
While still in high school, he started a photo album which he entitled, "My Life by Joseph Theinert." The small green book included photos of him with his friends and family. Kestler said that neither she nor anyone else in the family had ever seen the album before.
Among the quotes written by Theinert were the words, “The people in this book is why I choose to fight. It is for them that I am willing to lay down my life.”
In honor of 1st Lt. Theinert’s sacrifice Congressman Tim Bishop entered a statement into the official record of 111th Congress: “I also join these closely-knit Peconic Bay communities in mourning the loss of a young citizen of enormous potential.”
“I am so sad and shattered that my son is dead…but on the other hand I was so lucky to have such a gift like Joseph,” said Kestler.
On Wednesday, June 9, at 4:45 p.m. the procession for fallen hero 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert slowly passed by rows of mourners on Main Street, Sag Harbor. The convoy had traveled to Sag Harbor from Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. Once on Main Street the convoy passed over the Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, named after the Sag Harbor Marine who was killed in Iraq two years ago. From there they traveled to the South Ferry and onto Shelter Island. Once on Shelter Island the procession made its way to its final stop, Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church.
The wake will be at the church on Thursday, June 10 from 2 to 9 p.m. The funeral will take place the following day on Friday, June 11 at the Shelter Island School with a reception after the funeral on the grounds of the American Legion Hall. Finally 1st Lt. Theinert will be interred at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Cemetery.
“I don’t want anyone to forget Joey and his sacrifice but also I don’t want people to forget about the soldiers still there,” said Kestler.
In honor of 1st Lt. Theinert the Southern Cross of the Shelter Island Ferry will be renamed the 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert.
On the honors and outpouring of support for her fallen son, Kestler said, “Joey is the one who is going to be missed, not the fallen hero 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert.”