‘We’re here because we love Joe’

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |

A soldier gives a final salute near the end of Lt. Joseph Theinert’s funeral at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery on Shelter Island Friday. See more photos at suffolktimes.com.

An estimated 2,000 people gathered under and around a large tent on the Shelter Island School grounds Friday, June 11, to bid a final farewell to son, brother and friend, Lieutenant Joseph Theinert.

The morning was cool and a gentle breeze fluttered the many flags surrounding the gathering. There were nearly as many people in uniform as in Sunday clothes. Active military, veterans, fire and police department members came out in force to honor one who served.

Others came to remember their high school friend with the big grin.

Those two themes — that Joe was a selfless hero and that he was a decent, hardworking, hard-playing young man — dominated the remembrances by his coach, Mike Mundy, and brothers William (Billy) and James (Jimbo). Mr. Mundy first thanked the many veterans in attendance, “some of whom have never received the love and gratitude that has been shown here over the last couple of days.” The audience responded with sustained applause.

“Everyone who is here has their own private reasons,” he said. “Some of us have relatives now serving, or who are about to serve” — Mr. Mundy’s son Michael, who will graduate under that same tent on June 26, will join the Marines in August. “But for the island community, we’re here because we love Joe.” The former marine described the community response in terms of a well-run military operation, his own initial anger at the loss of Joe and the realization that Joe “was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing.”

On June 4, Lt. Theinert was killed by an improvised explosive device as he led his men away from small arms fire in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Able to warn his men before the device exploded, he was the only soldier killed. He is expected to receive the Purple Heart, among other military honors.

He was an accomplished athlete at Shelter Island School, from which he graduated in 2004. He was the first Shelter Island serviceman to die in combat since Jimmy Wilson, Class of 1962, was killed in the Vietnam War. Jimmy was also 24 when he died on October 30, 1967.

Billy Theinert shared just a few words about his brother, commenting on concerns about the fact that he has yet to cry. He was just glad, he said, that his brother had finally come home. Jimbo’s remembrances were emotional, but he persevered, emphasizing how important it is that “we keep telling Joey’s stories.”

He told one of a trip to Europe when he and his brother were in college. He asked Joe where he most wanted to go. Normandy, the site of the D-Day landings, was his answer. Jimbo recalled that while he took in the entire scene of the American Cemetery in the French countryside overlooking the English Channel, his brother stopped at individual servicemen’s grave markers to honor them.

The funeral mass was conducted by Father Peter DeSanctis, with an unexpected assist from Father Chris Cleary, formerly of St. Gabe’s Retreat House on Shelter Island. Father Peter’s homily and scripture messages about “the appointed time” reminded those gathered that all time is God’s time. “Jesus leads us. Jesus goes before us. Jesus went before Joey that day,” Father Peter said, just as Joey went before his men.

Six stations served Holy Communion while island high school girls sang “Panis Angelicus,” a song requested because Joe’s grandfather and namesake, Joseph Skovira, sang it well when he was alive.

JoAnn Lyles and Christian Haerter, the parents of Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, sat in the front row alongside Joe’s parents, Chrystyna and Frank Kestler and James and Cathy Theinert. Also present were Adjutant General Patrick Murphy of the U.S. Army, Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Suffolk County legislators Ed Romaine and Jay Schneiderman, Greenport Mayor David Nyce and town supervisors Scott Russell (Southold), Sean Walter (Riverhead) and Anna Throne-Holst (Southampton). The entire Shelter Island Town Board attended together.

Protestors who go to military funerals to publicize their own agendas did not materialize. Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders — motorcyclists invited to soldiers’ funerals to shield the families from protesters — encircled or escorted the proceedings for all three days of services.

Lt. Theinert’s remains returned to Shelter Island on Wednesday, June 9, as a procession of police, military and other uniformed personnel escorted the fallen soldier back home.

A wake was held Thursday, June 11, at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church. The line stretched far outside the door for its seven-hour duration. County Executive Steve Levy was one of the hundreds who paid their respects.

Burial with military honors followed the funeral at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery, and included a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and a fly over by a Suffolk County Police chopper and an Air National Guard helicopter.

In addition to active Army participation, the American Legion Mitchell Post, including several World War II veterans, presented the colors and marched in honor of the young soldier who would never become a veteran.

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Theinert scholarship ESTABLISHED

An event to raise funds for an ROTC scholarship in Joe Theinert’s memory will be held Monday, July 19, from 7 to 11 p.m. on the dock at Claudio’s Clam Bar in Greenport. Admission is $10. All proceeds will support the scholarship, which will be awarded during Mattituck High School’s graduation ceremonies.