With pride and patriotism, the people of Shelter Island Thursday greeted soldiers who had served with 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert in Afghanistan, where he was killed nearly a year ago.
More than two dozen of Theinert's "Banshee Troop" platoon mates, from B Troop, 10th Mountain Division, drove to the island from their Fort Drum headquarters to commemorate their fallen brother.
A crowd of residents awaited their ferry, which had been named in Theinert's honor last year. They waved American flags and applauded as they waited for the boat's arrival at the south ferry terminal and again later at an American Legion post in the island's center.
Several of the soldiers, most of whom had been deployed and were unable to attend Theinert's funeral last June, said they wanted to come out of respect for their fellow soldier and his family.
"Everyone who is here loved Joe, even those who didn't know him, because of the legacy he left with our platoon," said 1st Lt. Mike Ireland, 26, who took command of Theinert's platoon after he was killed. "Coming here, where he grew up and lived, represents some closure for us. We wanted to come here an learn about him and meet his friends and family."
Theinert, 24, who grew up on Shelter Island, was killed June 2, 2010 in the volatile Kandahar region of Afghanistan after discovering an improvised explosive device and warning fellow soldiers away. A second bomb exploded nearby.
His death, the first combat fatality from Shelter Island since 1967, galvanized this close-knit Peconic Bay community of about 2,500. Some 1,500 people attended his funeral, which was held under a huge tent on the grounds of the Shelter Island School.
Thursday's crowds were made up of a cross section of the island's residents -- schoolteachers, construction workers, auto mechanics and waitresses. They gathered at American Legion Post 281, which hosted a picnic lunch of freshly shucked clams, grilled burgers and hot dogs, and cupcakes baked by volunteers. A friend of the Theinert family, Susan Dingle, read a poem greeting the troops "with all our broken hearts."
"Welcome, guys," said Mike Loriz, commander of American Legion Post 281. Loriz promised to keep the post open around the clock through the weekend to provide a place for the soldiers to mingle with the community. "Our home is your home."
Thomas Spotteck, 22, a former Marine corporal, was among several motorcyclists who met the soldiers' caravan in Manorville, and escorted them to the ferry at Sag Harbor.
Spotteck, who had attended the funeral of a member of his unit last week, was serving in Afghanistan when Theinert was killed, learning of it during a routine call home.
"Meeting family is the hardest thing you can do," said Spotteck. "Feeling the support of the family and the community definitely helps with the coping and the healing process."
The soldiers will participate in several activities through Sunday. There is a 9 a.m. Mass Friday at Our Lady of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, then a visit to Theinert's grave. At noon Saturday, Theinert's father, James, is hosting a community barbecue.
James Theinert, of Sag Harbor, said he wanted the soldiers' visit to be a joyful occasion, rather than a mournful one.
"Joey brought us together," he said. "This is a celebration of his life, and of the men he fought and died for."