By Emma Betuel
The Sag Harbor community came together at Pierson High School on Sunday to honor Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, a local hero who gave his life in Iraq to save 50 marines and Iraqi police officers from a suicide bomber who tried to drive a truck loaded with explosives past his checkpoint in 2008.
In addition to Haerter, other Gold Star families from the Northeast came to Sag Harbor to honor their fallen sons — Corporals Jonathan Yale, Christopher Scherer, Nicholas Xiarhos, Michael Murphy, Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, who was a native of Shelter Island, and Army Specialist Orlando Perez.
In the words of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, “these men didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger.” On Sunday, 433 athletes gathered to run for them.
Troy Taylor, a graduate of North Texas University, was the first overall finisher, completing the course in 16:25.8 (5:18 mile pace). The top female finisher was Tara Farrell of East Quogue who clocked in at 19:35.6 (6:19 mile) to finish fifth overall.
Complete results are available at jordansrun.itsyourrace.com.
Jordan’s Run is part of the Suffolk County Veterans Run Series, which includes nine road races that commemorate fallen service members and their families. In past years, Haerter’s friends and family have convened to run in the village, but this was the first year that they turned their annual gathering into a sanctioned 5K.
“There were so many people doing things individually,” said JoAnn Lyles, Jordan’s mother. “We thought that the Suffolk County Veterans Series would be good for all the veterans. Everybody tries to do all the runs and we feel the camaraderie for sure.”
When Lyles chose the race course, she intentionally chose local places that highlight Haerter’s connection to his childhood home. The race began at Pierson, where he graduated from high school, and crossed over the bridge that has been renamed in his honor. The runners then passed the marina where he worked during the summer months, and finally ran past Oakland Cemetery, where he is buried. The day of the race — July 30 — would have been Haerter’s 29th birthday.
The run was particularly poignant for Steve Xiarhos, the father of Nicholas Xiarhos, who was one of the Marines Haerter saved with his sacrifice — although Nicholas was later killed in action himself. His father has run two marathons (including the Boston Marathon) in his honor.
“Nick didn’t really like to run,” he said. “But the other day, I was talking to another Gold Star father and he said ‘God saw them doing good things. He wanted them to do great things so he took them to Heaven.’ Now we are meeting people and doing great things here.”
While Haerter and Yale were both awarded the Navy Cross, Xiarhos hopes they will one day be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The short list of “great things” that occurred at Pierson included a helicopter flyover, some fast 5K finishes, and an impressive performance from Islip-based runner Billy Richards, who ran with a military-style pack strapped to his back. Richards is a veteran who served with the Marines for four years and in the Army for three. Leading up to Jordan’s Run he has completed nine ultra-marathons (over 50km races) on back-to-back days.
“I run with the pack as a tribute to the fallen,” Richards said. “To those who can’t be here today. It symbolizes the struggle that the military goes through every day.”
After the race, runners and Gold Star families gathered at the base of Pierson Hill to perform the last call ceremony — a final chance to reflect on the purpose of the run. Gold Star families were called up one by one to ring a bell to symbolize the lives of their loved ones. Although the atmosphere had been celebratory with a good breeze, live band and food trucks on Division Street, the field was silent for this final ceremony.
“It’s a great opportunity to remember one of my brothers,” said Matt Sheerin, a member of Haerter’s platoon. “I would say he [Jordan] was one of the best we had. He in an instant would follow orders for the good of the platoon. He was very smart. He was the type who knew how to put things in perspective when we were feeling down. It was great to be a part of this.”