An effort is afoot to convince the White House what many on the South Fork already believe — that Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter deserves the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor awarded by the president of the United States.
Corporal Haerter, a 19-year-old from Sag Harbor, was killed in Iraq five and a half years ago along with Marine Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale from Virginia. The two marines shot at a suicide bomber in a truck that was speeding through a serpentine of concrete barriers at Joint Security Station Nasser in Ramadi. The bomb, made of 2,000 pounds of explosives, detonated, killing them. Their quick action has been credited with saving the lives of at least 50 fellow marines and Iraqi soldiers and as many as 100 civilians nearby.
The two young men received the Navy Cross, the second highest military honor, in 2009, but their families and high-ranking military officials are making a push for top recognition. Two online petitions were started in recent months — the latest of which has over 37,000 signers — and Joi Jackson Perle of Wainscott and Patty Collins Sales of East Hampton have taken up letter-writing campaigns.
Susan Keophila, a retired master sergeant in the Army Reserves, has been quietly pushing for the Medal of Honor review for three years. She was in Ramadi on that day, April 22, 2008, working with a task force to get the camp ready to turn over to the Iraqis. “I heard and felt a huge explosion. It shook the building,” she said from Chester, Va., on Tuesday. She was three miles away from where Corporals Haerter and Yale lost their lives.
The blast leveled several city blocks. A mosque 100 yards away and 24 houses nearby were destroyed, she said. A four-foot-high concrete retaining wall bowed from the concussion wave. “They stood fast,” she said of the fallen marines.
Though a security camera pointed at the camp’s entrance was destroyed, footage was salvaged in the following weeks. “The video shows Iraqi police running. They [the marines] never once hesitated,” she said.
Recipients for the Medal of Honor must have gone “beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery.”
“It’s an injustice for me that they were not given that award,” Ms. Keophila said. Asked why she thinks Corporals Haerter and Yale have not received the award yet, she said it may come down to the way the qualification for the award is worded for one person’s act of heroism, not for two people working in tandem. “I have found no recipients where two received an award for the same or similar action,” she said.
Her daughter urged her to reach out to the families, and she first spoke to Corporal Haerter’s parents a year and a half ago.
The effort gained more attention when a Virginia resident, unbeknownst to Ms. Keophia or the marines’ families, started a petition on Petitions.WhiteHouse.gov. It got off to a bit of a late start, and failed to reach the goal of 100,000 signatures by Jan. 5.
In mid-January Ms. Perle, a Wainscott resident who ran in the Marine Corps marathon in honor of Corporal Haerter last year, started a petition on Change.org, which had received 37,332 signatures by Wednesday morning. “On my own, I’ve been emailing New York and Virginia senators, Tweeting and Facebooking — whatever I can do to bring attention to this,” she said. “The New York senators have not responded at all, which is disappointing.” Representative Tim Bishop’s office has been in touch, though, and he is scheduled to speak to the Secretary of the Navy on Friday, according to his spokeswoman.
Last week, aides from Virginia Senator Mark Warner’s office arranged a conference call with Ms. Perle, Ms. Sales, Ms. Keophila, and an aide from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s office. They said they would be back in touch within 10 to 14 days. “It sounds very promising,” she said. In the meantime, she asked that people continue to sign the petition and help to spread the word.
Corporal Haerter’s parents, Christian Haerter and JoAnn Lyles, said they are very appreciative of the time and effort people like Ms. Perle and Ms. Keophila have put into the Medal of Honor review.
Ms. Lyles said she is just thankful that the recent push helps to keep her son’s and Corporal Yale’s memories alive. “More people are taking the time to learn of their heroism and that will keep their names known,” she said.
“While I feel that the M.O.H. is something that would solidify Jordan and Jonathan’s legacy forever, it is not an end-all for me personally,” Mr. Haerter said. “Jordan is gone. His legacy for me, lies in the lives of the men that he was instrumental in saving. My memories of him are not just as a heroic marine, but as a caring, loving son and terrific human being who was admired by many.”
Mr. Haerter said he has particularly enjoyed reading the hundreds of thoughts posted on the petition website recenstly, especially from the soldiers who served alongside his son and those who were in Sag Harbor when his body was brought home. “In their mind, there is no question that the medal should be awarded,” he said.