In Response To True Valor, Marines Rename Mess Hall In Honor Of Fallen PECHS Grad

Published 2:46 pm Thursday, September 4, 2014

On April 22, 2008, two Marines were guarding a vehicle checkpoint in Ramadi, Iraq when a large blue truck came racing toward the gate. A video shows others running for cover, hoping to save their lives.

The two Marines, one of them a 2006 Prince Edward County High School graduate, were determined to save the lives of everyone, including more than 50 sleeping Marines in the compound on the other side of the gate.

Even if it meant losing their own lives to achieve that goal.

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Corporal Jonathan Yale, 21, and 19-year-old Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter were not scampering for cover. They were the point through which a truck—that anyone serving in Iraq would have known certainly contained explosives and was surely driven by a suicide bomber—would have to pass.

The video doesn’t show the two Marines but the smoke from their rifles is clearly visible as they stood their ground. Cpl. Yale and Lance Cpl. Haerter were able to kill the driver of the truck, which carried 2,000 pounds of explosives. The truck, however, detonated, killing the two Marines who exemplified valor to a degree so extraordinary that it is quite impossible to imagine ourselves in their shoes.

The LA Times, which covered the story, published this account: “Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale were standing guard early Tuesday morning when a blue dump truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives came speeding toward the compound. The two quickly went through the ‘escalation of force’ procedures: waving their arms, shouting and shooting flares.

“When the truck refused to stop, Haerter and Yale stood in its path and opened fire. The truck rolled to a stop about 30 feet from the entry point and exploded, spreading destruction about 130 feet in all directions, demolishing a mosque and injuring 20 Iraqi civilians.”

And killing the two Marines whose actions epitomize the word “valor,” which requires a strength of mind or spirit, its definition tells us, to encounter danger with firmness.

In fact, the precise definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides this example of valor: “the absence of indecision even in the face of death is the true mark of valor.”

Those two young men faced death with emphatic decision, a decisive commitment to the lives of their fellow Marines and others within the compound they were guarding.

For their courage and bravery, the two men were awarded Navy Crosses and there has been bipartisan support shown to upgrade them to Medals of Honor, according to The Marine Times.

In the meantime, every Marine who enters a mess hall in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina will have more than food to digest. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will find them in a mess hall now renamed for Cpl. Yale and Lance Cpl. Haerter, The Marine Times reports, adding that a Marine Corps spokesman said the 200-seat mess hall will also contain copies of the Marines’ Navy Cross citations. Camp Lejeune was the two men’s home base.

The Marine Corps Times’ August 27 story by Hope Hodge Seck, notes that the highest-ranking Marine Commander in Iraq at the time, then-Major General John Kelly, “was so moved by the narrative of bravery that he personally led the investigation into their actions and submitted Yale and Haerter for the military’s second-highest honor.”

Cpl. Yale was just days from coming home and beginning a new chapter in his life when the blue dump truck drove into view that day in Iraq. Instead, the valor shown by him and Haerter allowed the life stories of so many others to continue.

When he was at PECHS, Cpl. Yale loved to perform in the high school’s plays. His mother, Rebecca, explained to The Herald that her son loved “looking out and seeing all the people, because John was a real big ‘people person.’…It didn’t matter what kind of mood you were in, if you were having a really bad day or whatever, he would not leave you until you were smiling and laughing.”

Cpl. Yale took the phrase “people person” to heights few can scale.

During his remarks on February 20, 2009 when the two Marines were post-homously awarded the Navy Cross, the Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter, said Cpl. Yale and Lance Cpl. Haerter “embody the finest values of the United States Marine Corps.”

Secretary Winter described their duty that day as “the most important, dangerous mission” a Marine could have in Iraq. When the suicide bomber accelerated toward them, Secretary Winter said, the two Marines “had no time to call for re-enforcements. They had not time to report the situation up the chain of command. They had time only to rely on their discipline, their training and instincts. They stood their ground.”

Prince Edward County has already honored the great sacrifice made by Cpl. Yale. His name is inscribed on a courthouse lawn marker dedicated to soldiers from the county who died in military conflicts after World War II.

As difficult as it may seem, the next time we pass that marker let us stand and pause and then, yes, let us find the smile that he would want to give us.

During the Navy Cross ceremony, even Secretary Winter noted Cpl. Yale’s ability to make people laugh so, yes, let us smile for him.

Smile for the lives he and Haerter saved that spring day in Iraq.

Even as we stand in awe of their astonishing valor.