By Kitty Merrill
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Less than three months ago, Joi Jackson Perle started an online petition drive that's gained close to 40,000 signatures. Her goal? A Congressional Medal of Honor for local hero and son of Sag Harbor Jordan Haerter.
On Sunday a crowd gathered at the American Legion Chelberg & Battle Post 388 on Bay Street learned of a measure that will give a big guns boost to the effort.
Last week Congressman Tim Bishop introduced legislation requesting a presidential review of Haerter's heroism.
Haerter, a Marine Corps Lance Corporal was serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom along with Corporal Jonathan Yale, a native of Virginia in 2008 when confronted with a "life or death" decision. They chose life for the people they were charged with protecting, and death for themselves. Both young men were killed defending a security station in the Sophia district of Ramadi.
When a suicide bomber in a truck refused to stop, the two Marines opened fire. The ensuing blast claimed their lives and saved the lives of dozens of Marines and Iraqi policemen in the compound.
LCpl Haerter and Cpl Yale were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Department of the Navy. They received a plethora of additional accolades, including the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, and the National Defense Medal. The Sag Harbor/North Haven Bridge was named for the hometown hero.
On Sunday, Bishop explained his measure, sponsored in collaboration with his counterpart in Yale's hometown, Congressman Robert Hurt, will begin the process of determining whether the two heroes are eligible for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"Each of us has a duty to bear witness to the lives of men and women who pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom," Bishop said. "Part of that duty is to ensure that the proper honors are bestowed upon them." His legislation will allow for "every possible consideration for their incredible, incredible acts of heroism," the congressman said.
Phil Como, a USMC Vietnam Veteran and Commander of the James F. Brengel American Legion Post 456 in Seacliff, said he feels "a moral imperative" in the pursuit of the Medal of Honor for LCpl Haerter and Cpl Yale. Speaking passionately at the podium Sunday, Como reflected on "the course of so many lives" that were changed because of the young men's split second decision to sacrifice themselves.
"We should take great pride in the fact that we are taking this moment to say 'We're never going to forget,'" he told a crowd comprised of scouts, vets, family and friends.
LCpl Haerter's mother JoAnn Lyles and his father Christian Haerter both expressed gratitude to the congressman for filing the bill, as well as the legions of community members and supporters who have, as Bishop said, "embraced the family like only a small town can."
Also on hand for Sunday's announcement was Assemblyman Fred Thiele. He said, "In Sag Harbor, we all knew Jordan Haerter and in our hearts he's already won the Medal of Honor. Now we just have to convince others."