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Lawmakers call for Medal of Honor for Marines who died stopping truck bomber

Mar. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter, left, and Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale were killed stopping a truck bomber in Iraq in 2008.
Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter, left, and Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale were killed stopping a truck bomber in Iraq in 2008. (Marine Corps)
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A New York congressman is calling for a presidential review of the Medal of Honor cases of two Marines who in 2008 gave their lives to halt a suicide bomber with a truck full of explosives in Ramadi, Iraq.

Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop introduced a bill this week that would authorize President Obama to review the actions of Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale and determine their eligibility for the military’s highest honor.

Haerter and Yale, of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., were guarding a checkpoint in Ramadi on April 22, 2008, when a large blue truck filled with explosives accelerated toward their post, making no attempt to stop. The two Marines opened fire on the truck, causing it to explode before it entered the Joint Security Station, which housed more than 50 Iraqi and U.S. troops. Haerter and Yale were killed in the blast, but the lives of the troops within the station were saved.

In 2010, then-Lt. Gen. John Kelly commemorated the men’s actions in a moving speech in St. Louis, given just days after his own son, a first lieutenant, was killed in combat.

“By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back,” he said. “They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.”

Yale and Haerter were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the military’s second-highest honor for valor, in 2009. But recent months have seen the resurgence of an effort to upgrade their awards to Medals of Honor. This move has partially been driven by retired Army Master Sgt. Susan Keophila, a veteran of Task Force Ramadi, who has written letters to lawmakers and to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Obama himself, asking them to right the “injustice” that allowed Yale and Haerter to receive a lesser award.

“We had been in country about one month when ... we heard a huge explosion that literally shook the wooden command center we were in,” she wrote in a letter last November. “The explosion was five kilometers away and killed one Marine instantly while the other lay dying of his wounds ... the two Marines never hesitated. They stood their ground firing on the truck bearing down on them.”

The effort has also been the subject of a Whitehouse.gov petition and a Change.org petition, which remains open with more than 38,000 signatures.

Bishop said he introduced his legislation after discussing the matter with Haerter’s mother, JoAnn Lyles, who lives in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in his district.

“We’re basically trying to ensure that Jordan and Jonathan, that their memory benefits from the highest possible award and the most thorough review is conducted,” he said.

The rules for awarding the Medal of Honor are stringent; cases like this are typically only reconsidered if new evidence of valor is introduced. At issue in this case is a CBS news video, which emerged in 2009, that shows the truck barreling toward the two Marines’ checkpoint. It’s not clear, Bishop said, that this video was considered when the initial award package was submitted.

Bishop said he believes the likelihood this push will be successful are modest at best, but he said the Marines and their families deserve that chance. The measure has bipartisan support, with co-sponsorship from Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Va., who represents Yale’s hometown of Burkeville, Va. Prior to filing the bill, Bishop said he had a conversation with Mabus, who declined to advise him either way on pursuing the Medal of Honor push.

“He basically indicated that I should be dealing with the family, and I should be looking to the needs of the family,” he said.

Lyles, who has established a scholarship in honor of her son and organizes participation in road races, tough mudders and other events in his honor, said she supports the Medal of Honor push, but she believes her son’s legacy is most important.

“I am perfectly fine with the Navy Cross; it’s a wonderful award,” she said. “To me, it’s that his name is not forgotten, and Jonathan’s name is not forgotten.”

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