The Patriot Guard Riders were once again honored and privileged to have been asked to take part in the Annual Gold Star Mothers of America , Inc. - New York Chapter - State Convention Memorial Service last evening.
As anyone who has ever been in attendance at these Memorial services, they are profoundly moving experiences.
As PGR members we have done the escorts and stood the flag lines as these heroes were returned home to their grieving families and loved ones.
Each of these military honors funerals impacts us in many different ways. None more so than the experience a Long Island patriot felt at the honors funeral for US Marine Corps LCpl Jordan Haerter. This humbling experience was the impetus for one Jim McElroy to join the Patriot Guard Riders in order that he be able to somehow give back and honor those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Jim McElroy is now a very trusted member of PGR leadership occupying the position of downstate Asst. State Captain.
Jim brought to my attention a very moving speech that was given by then Lt. General John Kelly in honor of two very brave marine heroes - one of which was LCpl Haerter from Long Island. KIA April 22nd, 2008.
Lt. Gen. Kelly's speech has been lauded as one of the most eloquent speeches ever to honor the fallen. This speech has been repeated on a number of occasions including at the 2014 Gold Star Mothers of America California Convention.
I have taken the liberty of including this version of his speech in it's entirety. It's a long read but you'll be inspired and moved by the time of it's conclusion:
Lt. Gen John Kelly:
I have a story I wish to relate about the kind of people they are, about the steel in their backs, and the kind of dedication they bring to our country. When I was the commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, on April 22, 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8, were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion was in the closing days of its deployment, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour.Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines. The same ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, our allies in the fight against terrorists in Ramadi – known at the time as the most dangerous city on earth, and owned by al-Qaeda.
Yale was a dirt-poor mixed-race kid from Virginia, with a wife, a mother and a sister, who all lived with him and he supported. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle-class white kid from Long Island. They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines, they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple Americas exist simultaneously, depending on one’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, education level, economic status, or where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible, and because of this bond they were brothers as close – or closer – than if they were born of the same woman.The mission orders they received from their sergeant squad leader, I’m sure, went something like this: “OK, take charge of this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass. You clear?” I’m also sure Yale and Haerter rolled their eyes and said, in unison, something like, “Yes, sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point, without saying the words, “No kidding, sweetheart. We know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry-control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.
A few minutes later, a large blue truck turned down the alleyway – perhaps 60 to 70 yards in length – and sped its way through the serpentine concrete Jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest 200 yards away, knocking down most of a house down before it stopped. Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was caused by 2,000 pounds of explosive. Because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers in arms.When I read the situation report a few hours after it happened, I called the regimental commander for details. Something about this struck me as different. We expect Marines, regardless of rank or MOS, to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different. The regimental commander had just returned from the site, and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event – just Iraqi police. If there was any chance of finding out what actually happened, and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it, because a combat award requires two eyewitnesses, and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.
I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police, all of whom told the same story. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police related that some of them also fired, and then, to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion. All survived. Many were injured, some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated, and with tears welling up, said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.”What he didn’t know until then, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion, he said, “Sir, in the name of God, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. They saved us all.”What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned after I submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras recorded some of the attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated. You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives.I suppose it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. No time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time, the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed. Here the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were, some running right past the Marines, who had three seconds left to live.For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines firing their weapons nonstop. The truck’s windshield explodes into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tear into the body of the son of a bitch trying to get past them to kill their brothers – American and Iraqi – bedded down in the barracks, totally unaware that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground.Yale and Haerter never hesitated.
By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could. They had only one second left to live, and I think they knew.The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty. Those are the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight for you, and as amazing as this selfless act of sacrifice may seem, it is the norm. In all the years I have been both enlisted and an officer of Marines, I have praised them and have chewed them out. I have promoted them and unceremoniously disciplined them. I have hung decorations on them and court-martialed them. I have visited them mangled and broken in military hospitals around the country, in lonely defensive positions across Iraq, and in brigs.
I have known thousands of them over nearly 40 years, and I can tell you without hesitation or qualification that I never met one who would have run from his post that morning – who would have done anything other than to have stood there and died.I have the name of the most recent hero, killed in Afghanistan a few hours ago, but I cannot share with you his name because a Marine officer and Navy chaplain have not yet executed their honored duty of notifying the next of kin. That family, right now, somewhere in America, is in the final minutes of blissful ignorance before their entire lives change forever. I know God will help them bear this inconceivable burden – a burden I am told by those who know that never goes away or even gets lighter – and help them find comfort in the fact that their son was doing exactly what he wanted to do, was doing it with the finest men on this earth, and for a cause that meant more to him than his life.
The reality, however, is that it doesn’t matter if we are comforted, or if we accept it or not. It only matters that he did.We Marines believe that God gave America the greatest gift he could bestow on man while he lives on this earth: freedom. We also believe he gave us another gift nearly as precious – our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines – to safeguard that gift and guarantee no force on this earth can ever steal it away. Rest assured that our America, this experiment in democracy begun over two centuries ago, will forever remain the land of the free and home of the brave so long as we never run out of tough young Americans who are willing to look beyond their own self-interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down and kill those who would do us harm. God bless America, and semper fidelis.
Lt. Gen. John Kelly is senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Kelly delivered this speech to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis on Nov. 13, 2010, four days after his son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan.
Patriot Guard Riders NY - State Captain
Veteran Recovery Program - NY State Coordinator
PGR NY Board of Directors - President