Before I join the rest of the villagers of Sag Harbor who line Main Street for our annual Memorial Day parade, I shall visit Oakland Ceremony to thank Marine L. Cpl. Jordan Haerter for his service. He was just 19 when he was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, the place where the insurgency took root and where the counter-insurgency known as the "Awakening" eventually turned the course of the war.
In 2008 when Jordan Haerter died, Ramadi was still known as the most dangerous place on earth, a city that Al Qaeda had owned.
The attack came without warning.
A few minutes after Jordan Haerter and another young Marine, Cpl Jonathan Yale, took up their posts in front of barracks where 50 of their fellow Marines and 100 Iraqi police were sleeping, a large blue truck turned into the alleyway leading to their compound some 70 yards away. The truck picked up speed as it wound its way through the serpentine concrete Jersey barriers, heading straight towards the barracks where the Marines and their Iraqi allies were bedded down, unaware that their lives would depend on what the two Marines did next.
Thanks to Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who was then serving his third tour in Iraq as the deputy commanding general for I Marine Expeditionary Force and who traveled to Ramadi the next day to interview Iraqi police who had witnessed the attack, we know what happened.
Kelly said that it probably took about a second for Jordan and Jonathan Yale to understand that a suicide truck carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives was heading their way. "It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up," Kelly said. "By this time, the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed."
While some Iraqi police tried shooting at the vehicle to stop it, all of them scattered for safety when the truck kept on coming. But Jordan Haerter and Jonathan Yale did not stop. They stood their ground, firing their weapons nonstop. Moments before the truck bomb reached the barracks, the truck's windshield exploded as their rounds shattered the glass and killed the truck's driver. Haerter and Yale never stepped back, Kelly said. "They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could."
Six seconds after entering the alleyway, the truck exploded, just short of its target. The Iraqi police who had fled told Lt. Gen. Kelly the next day that Jordan Haerter and Yale had saved them all.
"Sir, in the name of God," one of them told Kelly that day, "no sane man would have stood there and done what they did."
After the Iraqis' account was verified by the compound's security camera, Kelly submitted the two young Marines for the posthumous Navy Crosses they were ultimately awarded.
And Last year, a bridge linking Sag Harbor and the neighboring village of North Haven was named for Jordan Haerter. Nearly the whole village turned out on that cold, grey day.
"These are the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight for you," Lt. Gen. Kelly said in his speech to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis, excerpts of which appeared in the May issue of American Legion Magazine. "As amazing as this selfless act of sacrifice may seem, it is the norm."
So today as Sag Harbor veterans of World Wars I and II, of Korea and Vietnam, and now of Iraq and Afghanistan walk by, as the Sag Harbor band salutes our volunteer fire force, I will think of Jordan Haerter, who is buried not far from my house. And I shall think of Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who gave this speech in honor of Jordan, four days after his own son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Finally, I shall pray that we may occasionally be worthy of such sacrifice.