"My first reaction is to cry and I don't know why," JoAnn Lyles said on Monday morning of the instant she heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Lyles' son Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter was killed when a suicide bomber approached the base he and another marine were guarding in Iraq in 2008. Along with Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Yale, the 19-year-old from Sag Harbor was hailed a hero for saving the lives of soldiers, Iraqi police, and civilians. The third anniversary of their death just passed on April 22.
Bin Laden's death brings with it emotions Lyles said she's just not sure of yet. "I guess he didn't die in vain – that's a good feeling – that there's definitely cause and an accomplished goal. Just because it took 10 years – maybe if it was quicker – Jordan might not have joined," she said.
When 9/11 occurred, Haerter was just 13 years old. He had returned from a trip to Manhattan to visit his father's aunt and a friend and even took photographs of the Twin Towers. "Two weeks later they were in school when all this happened," Lyles remembered.
The impact of that date played somewhat of a role in his decision to later join the Marines at 17, but his motivation was more about choosing a new path for himself. He told his mother he was done with books.
"I’m definitely thinking – dress red and white and blue and the flags are going on my car," she said.
For Jordan's father, Christian Haerter, bin Laden's death left him elated and relieved. "The first thing I did this morning was stop at Jordan's grave and tell him." He placed flags there and at the monument in honor of his son at the foot of Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Memorial Bridge.
"To me, it felt like a huge load was being lifted off my shoulders, but I think it's fantastic for the world in general," he said. "I don't revel in people's deaths very often, but he needed to go. I just feel that the world has been under this black cloud and the person responsible was Osama bin Laden."
Haerter also visited the Linda Gronlund Memorial Nature Preserve on Monday morning to leave a flag. Gronlund, a Sag Harbor native who died on the hijacked United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9/11. Haerter knew Gronlund, who was a few years ahead of him at .
"When those passengers fought the hijackers that was really the first group of people who actually stood up and said 'you’re not doing this, you’re not taking our freedoms,'" Haerter said. "I just feel they are all heroes."
When he sees her mother Doris Gronlund around Sag Harbor, he hugs her. "She’s probably the person that knows the pain – she’s the closest to me, knowing what it feels like to lose someone to an act of terrorism."
He said he feels pride for the United States and for the Navy Seals, men not much older than his own son would have been, he said.
Over Facebook, Lyles is taking in the countless messages. Messages of remembrance for her son's bravery were sent to her privately and over closed groups for parents of slain soldiers, as well as on friends' status updates, many of which remind others to remember her only son and Army Lt. Joseph J. Theinert who grew up in Shelter Island and whose father lives in Sag Harbor.
Haerter was the first soldier on the East End to be killed in action. Theinert, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, was the second. He was honored posthumously with the Navy Cross for his act of heroism.
"It's very nice that people think of them right away," Lyles said.