SAG HARBOR, N.Y. - Sad to think it took the outrage of 2001 to provide the spark, but it seems to me that America is in the warm throes of a patriotic wave. And nowhere is that more evident than on Memorial Day.
No one is unaffected by the sight of veterans making their way down Main Street USA. We become one collective goose-bump as the strains of Sousa classics like El Capitan or The Washington Post march waft through the spring air. Few know the titles but everyone knows the tune the last Monday of May.
And so it was that the small Long Island, New York community of Sag Harbor staged its annual commemoration of those who served, fought and perished. This leafy weekend retreat for Manhattanites is a world away from Ramadi, Iraq but is daily reminded of its blood ties to conflict far away. The North Haven-Sag Harbor bridge, providing the town's main access is named in honor of Jordan Haerter. He is always recalled in local publications for his persistence as a youngster, determined for instance to earn a pilots license. He soloed at 16.
It was his persistence, along with that of fellow Ninth Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1 member Jonathan Yale that was so noteworthy that April day in 2008. They relentlessly poured shoulder arms fire into a tank truck that was careening wildly toward their sentry post. The vehicle was disabled just a few feet from their position, so they were the only casualties when approximately 2000 pounds of explosives were set off by the suicide bomber. Estimates offered during their posthumous Navy Cross ceremony, suggested Haerter and Yale saved the lives of more than 50 fellow Marines and Iraqi policemen. Haerter was Sag Harbor's first combat victim since World War II. He was 19.
It is for the Jordan Haerters and Jonathan Yales, whose parents and siblings and knothole coaches attended parades and gatherings across the Nation, that Memorial Day is carved in our calendar and America's evolving sense of actual heroism.
The well heeled have departed Long Island by car, copter and train back to New York City to resume their workday lives. As they depart over the Jordan Haerter Bridge, many of them I hope, took note of the small bronze plaque that symbolizes the cherished clarity of the air breathed this Holiday.