QUANTICO, Va. - She dipped her head and bit her lip, then gazed up as the U.S. secretary of the Navy approached her with the beribboned medal in the handsome, azure case.
As a narrator's voice echoed in the central hall of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, JoAnn Lyles accepted the Navy's highest award - the Navy Cross - on behalf of her slain son, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter.
Haerter, 19, a 2006 graduate of Sag Harbor's Pearson High School, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq last April as he guarded a U.S. Marine base in Ramadi.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, very moving," Lyles said as the 18-minute event ended. "It is another memory etched on my heart."
His father, Christian Haerter, said, "For me, the ceremony was representative of his entire life. His entire life led up to that moment in Ramadi."
Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale, of Burkeville, Va., had been stationed at the entrance of a U.S. Marine encampment in Ramadi when the driver of an approaching dump truck refused repeated orders to stop. The two Marines prevented the truck from advancing into the compound by bringing it to a halt with automatic weapons fire.
Although their actions have been credited with saving the lives of 50 U.S. and Iraqi troops, they were killed when the driver detonated some 2,000 pounds of explosives a few feet from them.
Yale also was honored with the Navy Cross during the presentation, presided over by Navy Secretary Donald Winter. It drew friends and family members of Haerter's from as far away as Arizona, as well as more than two dozen members of his platoon.
About 45 people arrived for the ceremony on a chartered bus that left Sag Harbor at 2 a.m. Friday. Each received a goody bag that Lyles had made for them that included chocolates, crackers, bottled water and other treats, and which bore Haerter's image on its outside.
"I came to honor my best friend," said Tyler Horn, 21, who had been a regular classmate of Haerter's since preschool. He said Haerter was a straight-talking, determined youth who reflected his interest in a military career in drawings of battlefields beginning in junior high.
"I wouldn't miss this for anything," he said of the ceremony. As for his friend, he said, "The more people told him no, the more he wanted to join. He never quit on anything."
One of Haerter's platoon members present at the ceremony was Lance Cpl. Corey Teague, 22, of Norfolk, Va. Teague was about 50 yards from the explosion and had watched the truck's approach on a security monitor. He said he heard the two Marines firing their weapons at the truck, followed by a loud explosion.
Although Yale was from a different platoon, Teague knew Haerter especially well and was the leader of their five-man team. "He was an awesome Marine," Teague said. "He never complained, did what he was told to do and was always eager to learn something new. We were all devastated by the loss. It was like losing a brother."
The medal, which dates to 1919, is awarded "for extraordinary heroism ... in the presence of great danger," according to a U.S. Navy Web site. It is second in military importance only to the Medal of Honor, which is awarded by the president of the United States.
THE NAVY CROSS
AWARDED TO Anyone shown to have acted heroically in battle amid great danger.
SPECIAL HONOR Second only to the Medal of Honor in military importance, the Navy Cross is the highest medal awarded by the Navy. Generally reserved for members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, but open to all branches of the U.S. military.
Source: U.S. Navy