Tag Archive | "Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert"

Veterans Tell Their Stories to Heal Themselves

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From left to right, Adrienne Brammer, Matthew Thomas Burda, BR McDonald, Roman Baca and Sandra Lee, all veterans, told their stories at Bay Street Theater on Saturday. Photography by Jody Gambino.

By Mara Certic

Every soldier has a story; a report of why they enlisted, a personal account of rigorous training, their experiences in war and, very often, their difficult civilian epilogues.

On Saturday, October 3, Sag Harborites had the opportunity to hear some of these stories when “This is What We Fought For” came to the Bay Street Theater. The Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund, in collaboration with The Telling Project and the Veteran Artist Program, welcomed veterans and their family members to the stage to tell their honest, scripted and rehearsed tales of war.

Shelter Island native Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert was killed in action during combat operations in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010. In his honor, the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund was founded to award scholarships and to provide support to organizations that enrich the lives of active and veteran United States service members. By the end of this year they will have given out $20,000 in scholarships and $15,000 to various military service organizations.

One of the organizations the foundation supports is the Veteran Artists Program (VAP), which helps artists who happen to be veterans, propel their work into the mainstream.

This original production began with Lt. Thienert’s brother James, affectionately known as “Jimbo,” recounting the story of when he found out his brother had been killed. He was working on the South Ferry when his father broke the news to him. He talked about how he tries to deal with that loss, and about the importance of the performance to follow, and telling your story.

“The men and women on stage tonight will never forget their experiences… it is just not possible,” he said.

“It is part of the mission of the Joseph J Theinert Memorial Fund that we help to create a world that allows them to share these experiences so they are not shackled by them for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Theinert said.

Five veterans of the armed forces, all members of VAP, took to the stage, weaving their stories together in little vignettes, intertwined with the occasional song or military chant.

During one musical interlude, Roman Baca pirouetted across the stage. Mr. Baca, who served in the United States Marine Corps, was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq from 2005 to 2006. “I didn’t tell anyone in boot camp I was a ballet dancer,” he said in one vignette. When he finally told three of his friends, “two of them thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard. One never spoke to me again,” he said.

Mr. Baca likes to remember the humanitarian missions he went on, delivering soccer balls to children and giving food and water to people in need. But that didn’t stop him from becoming angry when he left the army. He was often enraged, he said, and his relationships suffered. Ballet has helped him, and recently Mr. Baca returned to Iraq to teach young adults how to express themselves through dance.

Air Force veteran Adrienne Brammer also served in Fallujah. Ms. Brammer joined the air force to see the world, she said. She worked as a reporter, anchor, cameraman and radio deejay for the American Forces Network in Iceland, South Korea and Italy. She loved traveling and exploring and enjoyed her work, but when she was reassigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron, she felt somewhat underused.  She left the air force after 14 years, without benefits, and is now following her dream and studying acting at Marymount Manhattan College.

BR McDonald, founder of VAP, always had a strong love of the arts. Mr. McDonald joined the army after the events of September 11 and served for seven years as an Arabic linguist and a Special Operator in the Joint Specials Operations Command. He lived his life in “cover,” he said. He lived his covers; he became who he needed to be to get missions done.  This made him one of the best at his job, but changed his personal life forever.

Mr. McDonald kept his life in America with his girlfriend completely separate from his life overseas. When living a cover on one mission, Mr. McDonald fell in love. He sweetly told the story of how he spent time with this woman for months, until one day he was re-assigned and had to leave without telling her why.

The evening was awash with unexpected, honest and raw tales of the military. U.S. Air Force veteran Matthew Thomas Burda’s stories of working security in an Afghan prison were interwoven with U.S. Army veteran Sandra Lee’s account of the first time she was blown up by an IED. This would happen to her three more times before she eventually left the army.

Ms. Lee served in civil affairs in the army; one of the many things she did overseas was to oversee the rebuilding of schools in Western Baghdad. She had never seen anyone so excited to have working plumbing, she said, adding there was “a lot of good” that happened.

“A lot of not so good things happened too,” she said.

After leaving the army, she went back to finish school and immersed herself in her studies. It wasn’t until more than a year after returning to civilian life that Ms. Lee fell into a deep, debilitating depression and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

She’s doing better now, she said. “I’m on medication that stops me remembering my nightmares,” she said, which helps, but that also means she cannot recall her good dreams.

“But now I study acting,” she said. “It’s been my therapy, my healer.”

Haerter & Theinert Honored by New York State As Community Prepares for Memorial Day

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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.

Haerter & Theinert to be Inducted into Veterans Hall of Fame Today

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Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, from Sag Harbor (above) and Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, from Shelter Island, will be inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame on Tuesday, May 22.

As the East End readies for Memorial Day weekend, there was no truer reminder that this holiday has less to do with hot dogs and house rentals and more do with honoring those who have fallen in service to the United States than what will occur Tuesday in Albany. There, family, friends and government leaders will gather in honor of two veterans from the East End who gave their lives in battle — Sag Harbor’s own Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter and Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert from Shelter Island.

Both men will posthumously inducted into the New York State Senate’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame on Tuesday, May 22. They were nominated for the honor by New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.

“Joe Theinert and Jordan Haerter are true heroes who gave their lives to protecting the freedoms we treasure,” said LaValle in a statement released last week. “They should be recognized and commended by our State and community. The New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame is a tribute to these two fine young men that demonstrates our respect and gratitude for their patriotism and sacrifice.”

Army 1st Lieutenant Theinert was deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 24. Approximately six weeks into his deployment, he was killed in action on June 4, 2010 while on patrol in the Dand District in Kandahar was investigating an improvised explosive device, which detonated. No other members of Army 1st Lieutenant Theinert’s platoon were killed or injured.

Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, who entered the Marine Corps directly out of high school, was a Platoon High Shooter in his Alpha Company platoon. On April 22, Lance Corporal Haerter was killed in action in Ramadi, Iraq. Jordan, a member of the proud and storied 1st Battalion, 9th Marines also known as ‘The Walking Dead’, and fellow marine, CPL Jonathan T. Yale, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, were standing guard at an entry control point when a large truck careened off track and ignored calls to halt. Haerter and Yale opened fire to protect the checkpoint and were killed by the resulting 2,000-pound blast that came from the rigged vehicle.

Their actions saved scores of servicemen and women from both the United States and Iraq.

LCPL Jordan Haerter’s military awards include 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.