A petition asking President Obama to consider Sag Harbor native Jordan Haerter for the nation's highest military honor has gained traction, but is in danger of missing the Jan. 5 threshold to ensure a White House response.
Marine Lance Cpl. Haerter, a rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, has been credited with sacrificing his life during a 2008 suicide attack in Iraq -- an action that spared the lives of 50 U.S. Marines and scores of Iraqi police and civilians.
Haerter, 19, and another Marine, Cpl. Jonathan Yale, of Burkeville, Va., held their position as a terrorist driving a heavy truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives barreled toward them, trying to get past their U.S. Marine checkpoint and into a heavily populated area in Ramadi.
As an Iraqi police officer standing a few feet from them fled to safety, the two Marines fired their weapons, halting the truck. But the explosives detonated with such force that it obliterated the area, even collapsing a mosque 100 yards away. A video of the six-second confrontation was captured by a security camera.
In 2009, Haerter and Yale were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor among U.S. military honors. But under Pentagon protocol, the award of a military medal is typically an indication that the chain of command has decided no higher honor is warranted, said Marine spokeswoman Maj. Shawn Haney.
Still, some military personnel have long felt that the two men deserved more.
"They stood their ground, they saved 150 people and did it without even hesitating," said former Army Master Sgt. Susan Keophila, who was in Ramadi during the attack, and who said she saw details of the incident's investigation. "To me, that's the epitome of the Medal of Honor."
Keophila, of Chester, Va., said she wrote every Virginia member of Congress during the past two years to press for the higher award. Then, on Dec. 6, someone who self-identified as "G.F." of Alexandria, Va., initiated the petition in the "We The People" section of the whitehouse.gov website.
The petition can be seen here: http://1.usa.gov/KjExON.
On Monday, more than 2,090 petitions had been submitted, but that's far short of the 100,000 needed by Jan. 5 to ensure a response from the White House.
"I know this may not work, but in my mind I must do everything I can to get these men the medal they deserve," Keophila said.
The Pentagon has drawn criticism in recent years for nominating relatively few individuals for the Medal of Honor, which is granted by the president. Although 464 Americans received the Medal of Honor for World War II, so far only 13 individuals -- including Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy of Patchogue -- have been awarded it for action during more than 12 years of war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said in a release: "Jordan Haerter's conduct during the incident in question is the very definition of heroism. His actions merited the awarding of the Navy Cross and I would certainly support an appropriate review for a higher award."
Haerter's mother, JoAnn Lyles, said although she would be proud to have her son considered for the higher award, she does not know enough about military awards to say whether a Medal of Honor is deserved.
"Although I have forwarded this to others and have gotten a lot of responses, I don't want to push for it if it is not warranted," said Lyles, of Sag Harbor. "I just want it to be judged on its own merits."
She added, "On a personal level, if it helps Jordan and Jonathan to be known years from now after their parents are gone, that's the nice thing. A lot of old-time veterans wonder why it wasn't considered to be of the Medal of Honor level."