Editor's note: On April 22, 2008, Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale were killed in Ramadi, Iraq when they faced down a truck bomb barrelling toward the gate of the compound they were guarding. For their heroism, they were both posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Some believe they deserve the Medal of Honor.
Today marks the anniversary of the day the Marines came to my work and told me my son, Jordan Haerter, my only child, was killed in action in Ramadi, Iraq.
Jordan was a Marine with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and had deployed just one month earlier. He was only 19. The deployment was to be a Police Transitioning deployment, teaching the Iraqi Police methods to keep the peace in their cities. Jordan's battalion would be replacing 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, which Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale was a member of.
I traveled down from Sag Harbor, New York to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, meeting my parents and brother to say goodbye to Jordan at the battalion's send off.
I remember bracing myself to be able to hug him and say goodbye. I chose the words, "do your job and come home." Jordan was a kind and thoughtful young man. An entrepreneur, a quick wit, with a very dry sense of humor. A full life of good was ahead of him. Jordan's bedroom has changed very little since he's been gone. There are still Yankees posters, Marine posters, an American Flag and Cessna cockpit posters hanging on the walls.
He learned to fly at sixteen and a "shirttails" signed shirt is framed commemorating the accomplishment of his first solo flight.
I go into his bedroom to straighten up and dust and finally took the time to break down his computer and look at the papers in his desk.
I came across this short story he had written for an school assignment his senior year in High School. It is dated April 28, 2006, almost two years to the day before he was killed.
He writes of an imagined Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment.
My unit had been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom; that was a good thing. I was finally going to use the month's worth of training I had received. There was only one problem, no not a problem, more of an issue with being deployed. My job has one detail that no other job in the world has; I am required to take lives.
I didn't have a problem with the actual act, I knew I was going to be able to do that; my issue was with my thoughts before the fact. I was afraid that my thinking would prevent me from completing my job in a timely manner. If that were to have happened it would have been a real problem.
I talked about my thoughts with the older Marines; they usually just played it off as pre-combat jitters. The few that offered advice for me said things like, "just don't think about it." WHAT THE HELL; that is not advice, that is a completely blank statement to me. I'd never had to think about something so consequential, and I couldn't simply stop.
The cross-Atlantic trip was especially bad for me. I had done it before but this time was different, I wasn't headed for a friendly European nation, I was headed to a conflict. Even the sailors were looking at us differently; they knew what we were heading into but never talked about it. My thoughts took over my boredom and I began replaying my fantasy over and over. I envisions a hazy smoke filled, dark street with debris everywhere. A group of masked men armed with AK's and PKM's were approaching, weapons raised and ready to fire; well that was an easy ID. I would raise my rifle and then it would start, the sweat that comes from a life changing decision. I would sweat so much I could see my bones and my Kevlar became fused to my head. Then the dream would end, before I even felt my trigger. It bothered me that I could not see my round taking down a target.
When we came on station at Camp Fallujah, reality set in very quickly.
We were Marines, not some Army convoy jockeys, so we went looking for combat. My first firefight was intense, hectic and strangely long lasting. I was riding shotgun in the 2nd [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles) in a 4 vehicle column when we were hit with small arms. We sped in the opposite direction of the incoming fire but ran into the largest road block I had ever seen, 3 burnt out tractor trailers and other assorted war debris. We immediately stopped and headed back into the fire. My driver was screaming "FIRE YOUR WEAPON!" and I did; I fired 270 rounds in under 15 minutes. When we got back to the camp we counted up casualties, no KIA, one wounded and 1 HMMWV wasn't going to see the U.S. again. I was happy that I could actually fire my weapon at the enemy but we were going so fast I didn't know what I hit.
The next couple weeks we were in a few more bad ambushes, and apparently it was our fault that our equipment was wrecked so we were ordered to perform foot patrols throughout the city. Most of the time these were routine, kick in a few doors, bag and zip tie some people and go home. One day, a day that will never be forgotten, we stacked up outside this pink house. Now if you have ever seen any pictures of Iraq, there are no pink houses ANYWHERE, so that made us wary of what was inside. I was the second one in the door and as I scanned my sector on my left, I saw the horrendous shape of a man pointing an AK at the first Marine in.
"Holy S---," was my reaction, the combatant was splayed out on the floor still clutching his hot weapon, finger on the trigger. I had done it, without questioning my judgment, as I was trained. The older guys were right; I worried all these months for no apparent reason. After all this I learned that I can easily take a life if that life is endangering mine or that of my fellow Marines.