Before his death in Ramadi, Iraq, ten years ago this week; before he entered the Marine Corps; before he even graduated from Pierson High School, Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter had envisioned what it would be like to protect his fellow Marines in a fire fight.
On April 28, 2006, then-17-year-old Jordan handed in a chilling short story as a homework assignment. He had imagined an Operation Iraqi Freedom skirmish in which a soldier fires his weapon after weeks spent soul-searching on whether he would actually be able to do it.
“I was the second one in the door,” Jordan wrote, “and as I scanned my sector on my left I saw the horrendous shape of a man pointing an AK at the first Marine in … I had done it, without questioning my judgment, as I was trained. … After all this I learned that I can easily take a life if that life is endangering mine or that of my fellow Marines.”
It was, of course, almost exactly two years later that Jordan, then known as LCpl. Haerter, jumped into action along with Cpl. Jonathan Yale when a suicide bomber drove into a checkpoint they were guarding in Ramadi. According to military reports, they opened fire to protect the checkpoint and were killed by the vehicle’s blast — and in the process, saved the lives of many fellow Marines and members of the Iraqi police force.
On Sunday, ten years will have elapsed since the day that LCpl. Haerter’s parents, JoAnn Lyles and Christian Haerter, received word that their only child had died in the line of duty.
“One minute your life is perfectly fine, and the next minute it’s not,” Mr. Haerter said this week. “I think I’ve come to peace with it. I can’t change it. I think I take solace in the fact that there were so many saved by Jordan and Jonathan’s actions. There could have been 33 families that got a knock on the door, not just two.”
Ms. Lyles said the fact that ten years has passed “doesn’t feel any worse or better.” But what has helped her in a tangible way is not just the outpouring of support from the community, but also the steady stream of charitable efforts and recognition that followed her son’s death.
“It feels good to do good for others. That helps me,” she said. “That’s a good goal to have. It certainly feels good to speak Jordan’s name and make sure people remember him. I do have to steel up for events.”
Ms. Lyles set up the organization In Jordan’s Honor, which has coordinated Jordan’s Run and fundraises for monetary awards to give Pierson graduates who are bound for the military or careers in law enforcement. Mr. Haerter founded Jordan’s Initiative, which has helped veterans in various ways over the last decade, for instance by giving adaptive bicycles to wounded soldiers or helping them with home improvements such as ramps for wheelchairs.
LCpl. Haerter has received quite a few posthumous honors, including the Navy Cross Medal, the Purple Heart Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Campaign Medal and others, and a campaign is under way to convince Congress to award both him and Cpl. Yale the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Sag Harbor Village named its bridge in honor of LCpl. Haerter in November of 2008, and the Wounded Warrior Project dedicated its Soldier Ride in the Hamptons in his honor on two occasions. In 2014, the 8th Marine Regiment dedicated its new mess hall at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to LCpl. Haerter and Cpl. Yale.
In January of 2017, veteran James Ferguson of Baltimore, Maryland, launched the Warrior Reunion Foundation, which helps reunite combat soldiers in units after they are discharged. Mr. Ferguson said he was inspired to do so after being helped by Jordan’s Initiative in 2015.
“That reunion experience and interacting with the community really crystalized for me that this isn’t just for my guys, this is something that every unit that deploys needs to experience,” Mr. Ferguson said. “Jordan’s example of giving himself for all the lives of those he was serving alongside is an example that we all try to live up to after we get out.”
In April of 2017, former Marine David Nardone of Greenville, South Carolina, who served with LCpl. Haerter, established the Jordan Haerter Home for Transitioning Veterans to help prevent veteran suicides by housing homeless veterans, making sure they receive their proper benefits and supporting them as they seek employment. The organization is seeking additional support; more information can be found at fellowcountrymen.org.
Marine Lt. General John Kelly recognized LCpl. Haerter and Cpl. Yale in his well-known speech “The Last Six Seconds.” It inspired Joshua DeFour, a former Marine combat correspondent videographer who is now a graduate film student at the University of Texas, to begin making a short film about LCpl. Haerter and Cpl. Yale. A trailer for the film can be found at indiegogo.com/projects/the-11th-order-the-six-seconds-to-live-short-film.
“For days on end I kept thinking about this speech,” Mr. DeFour said this week. “I felt like I could make a film, and I felt like I had the responsibility to try, to share it with other people. The story is so powerful.”
Mr. Haerter and Ms. Lyles know their son was a hero, but they also remember him as a typical young man — a Boy Scout, a Yankees fan, a Little Leaguer, handsome and well-liked by his peers, an independent boy who couldn’t wait to ride on the back of his father’s motorcycle.
“He was a very, very humble guy,” Mr. Haerter said. “He might have almost been embarrassed that so much attention was being brought to him, because that’s how he was in life. He wasn’t bashful, but he wasn’t one to shine light upon himself.”
Ms. Lyles got tears in her eyes recalling her emotional struggle.
“I know there’s joy in that my friends’ children are marrying and having children. I just miss that,” she said. “There was a plan for Jordan, so that’s hard. I’m happy for everyone, but I might go home and sigh. That’s the hardest thing I think. If they haven’t experienced loss, I think they think I should be over it, but grief could come at any time.”
Mr. Haerter said he hopes the continued telling of his son’s story keeps war in perspective.
“I think people who don’t know the story forget that there are still wars going on,” he said, “and there are still people in harm’s way.”