Fallen Heroes Live On in Sag Harbor and Shelter Island

1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, LCpl. Jordan Haerter
1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, LCpl. Jordan Haerter, Courtesy : Courtesy New York National Guard, Christian Haerter

In the Hamptons, Memorial Day has come to represent the unofficial start of summer, weekend parties, benefits and galas, and perhaps that very first beach outing, but it is incredibly important to also remember the day’s true meaning. Memorial Day is about honoring and acknowledging those who gave their lives in service to our country.

It’s an especially difficult day for families of the heroic men and women who fell fighting in Iraq (2003–2011) and Afghanistan (2001–Present), both wars still fresh as they continue to grieve. Here on the East End, two names are etched into the landscape as enduring reminders of dedicated local soldiers who sought to protect their families, their country and, most of all, the brothers fighting alongside them.

Anyone who’s traveled from Sag Harbor to Shelter Island should recognize the names of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, which now graces the former Sag Harbor-North Haven Bridge, and 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, which lives on aboard South Ferry boat Lt. Joe Theinert and on Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way, a 1.4-mile stretch of Route 114 running from the South Ferry Terminal to the Cartwright Road Circle.

USMC LCpl. Jordan Haerter in Iraq
USMC LCpl. Jordan Haerter in Iraq, Courtesy Christian Haerter

Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter

The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge from Sag Harbor to North Haven was dedicated in November 2008 in honor of 19-year-old Haerter, a Sag Harbor resident who was killed by a suicide bomber while defending a checkpoint in Ramadi, Iraq on April 22, 2008.

The young soldier and his comrade Marine Corporal Jonathan Yale (of Burkeville, Virginia) put the lives of dozens of others before their own by holding ground and opening fire on a truck loaded with explosives, killing the vehicle’s driver as he sped toward their position. Their actions stopped the attacker from detonating his bombs inside Joint Security Station Nasser, where many more would have perished.

Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge
Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Haerter, who died protecting others from the blast, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for valor. There are ongoing campaigns to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military decoration. A new short film directed by University of Texas at Austin MFA filmmaker Joshua DeFour, The 11th Order, tells the story of Haerter and Yale’s heroic last stand. You can find it at filmmakerscollab.org.

On Sunday, July 28, Haerter’s family invites the community to join them for the Jordan’s Run Veterans’ Memorial 5K Run/Walk, starting at Pierson High School (200 Jermain Avenue) in Sag Harbor at 7 a.m. Proceeds will benefit Haerter’s memorial fund, In Jordan’s Honor, Ltd. Email [email protected] for more info.

1st Lt. Joseph Theinert
1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, Photo: Courtesy New York National Guard

1st Lt. Joseph Theinert

A New York Army National Guardsman assigned to the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert died of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device (IED) when insurgents attacked his unit during a dismounted patrol in Hondu Kalacheh near Kandahar, Afghanistan on June 4, 2010. The Shelter Island native and Sag Harbor resident was just 24 years old.

“Joe worked on the South Ferry during high school and college,” his father, James Theinert of Sag Harbor said, explaining his son’s connection to the boat that now bears his name. Theinert, who struggles when talking about his late son, said South Ferry owner and veteran Clifford Clark was always very supportive of his son’s military service and schedule.

After Theinert’s death, the Clarks reached out to his devastated family and offered to rename one of their ferries in the fallen soldier’s honor. All the South Ferry boats were previously named for members of the Clark family, but “He thought Joe’s legacy should be carried forth,” Theinert said of Clark’s heartfelt offer. “We were very touched by that,” he added, explaining that Clark knew his sons since they were little. “It was a wonderful gesture during a tough time.”

Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way on Shelter Island
Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way on Shelter Island, Photo: Oliver Peterson

As Clark said to the elder Theinert, “That boat will be around long after I’m gone, and long after you’re gone.” The same, of course, goes for the road designated with his name in October 2010.

For Theinert’s younger brother Jimbo Theinert, naming the ferry was a perfect way to honor his sibling. “There’s something so beautiful about having Joe’s boat, in his name, taking people to Shelter Island,” he said, describing “the close and personal relationship” Shelter Islanders have with the ferries. “It happened because of the Clark family and because of their understanding of service and sacrifice.”

Following the loss of his son, Theinert said the Shelter Island and Sag Harbor communities showed tremendous and unwavering support, which continues nearly a decade hence. “The locals are a tight-knit group,” he said. “They’re very supportive of veterans…they continue to reach out each year.”

The anniversary of Theinert’s death comes about one week after Memorial Day, so the start of summer is never easy for those who loved him most. “It’s a tough time of the year for the family,” his father said, but the community shares in his pain. “People on the street make sure we know they haven’t forgotten,” he added, also acknowledging the powerful connection he maintains with his son’s military brothers in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. “His unit always reaches out,” he said. “They do not forget. Local, national—it’s one big family,” Theinert continued, noting that they’re regularly asked to join the unit for ceremonies. “Joe’s gift to me was his military family. God bless them for what they do for us.”

Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way on Shelter Island
Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Way on Shelter Island, Photo: Oliver Peterson

In the nine years since Joe Theinert made the ultimate sacrifice, his family— including his brother, grandparents and mother Chrystyna Kestler—have become active in supporting soldiers and veterans. Their Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund and foundation continue Joe’s mission of helping soldiers and their loved ones, through scholarships and the very special Strongpoint Theinert Ranch. Located on a 1,000-acre family property and former cattle ranch in the scenic mountains and open prairies of remote Magdalena, New Mexico, Strongpoint Theinert Ranch is a secluded and growing haven where gold star families and veterans can go to find camaraderie, build resiliency and experience a healing retreat.

Among a number of events each year to benefit Strongpoint Theinert Ranch and the Memorial Fund, the Theinert family welcomes supporters to join Team Strongpoint Theinert in running the 40th Annual Shelter Island 10K over the weekend of June 14–16. The last mile of the course, “Joe’s Mile,” will be lined with more than 6,000 flags in memory of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visit josephjtheinertmemorialfund.org to sign up or donate, or strongpointtheinert.org to learn more about Strongpoint Theinert Ranch.

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