Looking on into the crowd of people gathered on a hill behind The Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage on Saturday, JoAnn Lyles remembered the plans her fallen son, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, had for his future.
Haerter was 19 years old when he was killed in action in Iraq on April 22, 2008, after he and fellow Marine Cpl. Jonathan Yale successfully stopped a suicide truck bomber from blowing up the entrance to a security station in Ramadi that housed 150 soldiers. The truck exploded outside the camp, killing both Marines.
"Jordan had plans for the future, now unfinished business," Lyles, a Gold Star mother from Sag Harbor, said of her son. "He was going to finish his commitment to the Marine Corps, go to college with the GI Bill, take law enforcement [classes], and become a police officer in Sag Harbor. He loves Sag Harbor, and now that is where he rests."
Former soldiers and families of soldiers stood with elected officials on Saturday at the museum in Old Bethpage to honor soldiers deployed during the War on Terror in a community-driven public tribute.
Roughly 150 people turned up for the event, with some attending after the festivities, according to museum vice president Gary Lewi. Several elected officials including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), former Rep. Peter King and others attended.
The event was inspired after John O’Dougherty, 59, a Nassau County Department of Public Works manager and a first sergeant for the Army National Guard Delta Company's 1s Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment who also spoke at the ceremony, posted comments on Facebook after the American military withdrew from Afghanistan. The comments, which came from fellow soldiers, described the pain they felt that there was no perceived acknowledgment of their tours of duty during the decadeslong conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lewi said.
"This program was not going to be about second-guessing ‘At what point did we depart Afghanistan?’ " Lewi said. "This program was going to be all about the veterans and their families. There was going to be a public acknowledgment of thanks."
Fred Seitz of East Islip, a Blue Star parent whose son Rick Seitz, now 35, serves in the Air Force, told Newsday that as the father of a member of the military, he was happy that the event was paying tribute to veterans who made sacrifices to protect the nation during the war.
During his speech, Seitz — whose son enlisted because of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — said that while parents like himself are proud to support their children fighting overseas, the fear for their safety is always present.
"It’s fear of an unexpected knock on the door," Seitz said. "It’s a nameless and faceless fear that you really can’t put your finger on, but it’s powerful and it’s stressful, and it’s numbing."