COURTESY THEINERT FAMILY
U.S. soldier 1LT Joseph Theinert of Shelter Island with his
father, Jim Theinert, and mother Chrystyna Kestler in May 2008.
“There is nothing glorious about war, but I will go to it to keep the people I love away from it.”
message from First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert was pencilled in the
back cover of a picture album found by his older brother Billy on
Sunday, the day after his family learned that the 24-year-old Shelter
Island soldier had died while saving the lives of his men in
Afghanistan. Beneath it, he wrote “9/11 — never forget.”
Friday, June 4, Lt. Theinert was leading his platoon on a mission in
Kandahar Province when they were subjected to hostile fire, forcing
them toward an area mined with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Lt.
Theinert disabled one IED and began to disarm a second one when the
trigger mechanism sounded. He warned the 20 men under his command to
get back before the device exploded, his commander told the family. He
was the only soldier killed in the incident and he is expected to
posthumously receive the Purple Heart.
Lt. Theinert is the son and
stepson of Chrystyna and Frank Kestler of Mattituck and Shelter Island,
and of James and Cathy Theinert of Sag Harbor.
“He was always
thinking of his men,” his stepfather, Frank Kestler who served in the
Army Reserve in Iraq in 2008, said Sunday as friends and neighbors
gathered outside his Shelter Island dental office to console the
family. They had just returned from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware,
where Army soldiers carried his flag-draped coffin off a transport
plane on Saturday. His remains will be officially identified by the
U.S. Army before being flown to Gabreski Airfield. A procession
escorted by military and police personnel is planned to bring the
Shelter Island native home from Westhampton. A maritime honor guard of
U.S. Coast Guard and other vessels will provide an escort at South
Ferry, where Joseph Theinert and his brother Jim worked summers. No
dates are set but two days of wake and funeral services, including an
official day of mourning for the Town of Shelter Island, are being
planned. He is the first Shelter Island serviceman to be killed in
combat since Jimmy Wilson, Shelter Island Class of 1962, died during
the Vietnam War.
Lt. Theinert had been in Afghanistan for a month
leading the 2nd Platoon, Bunchee Troop, 1-71 Cavalry Battalion of the
1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. He had left Sag Harbor, where he
lived with his father Jim Theinert, for Fort Drum about three months
“What I want for him is for no one to ever forget him — what
he did for Shelter Island, what he did for his country,” said Mr.
Theinert to Shelter Islanders gathered at the American Legion Hall
Sunday to plan a funeral that is expected to be attended by as many as
His mother, Chrystyna Kestler, received one
hand-written letter from her son since his deployment. “This letter
means everything to her,” friend Paula Daniels of Southold said.
Writing was not his strong suit as evidenced by this family story: Upon
returning from Shelter Island School one day, his mother asked what he
learned in Ms. Corwin’s English class. “I learned not to look at the
clock before the class was over,” he answered.
“Knowing he might not return, Joey only looked at the mission ahead of him,” Ms. Daniels said.
mission in southern Afghanistan was a dangerous one. His deployment is
part of a build-up in American forces in Kandahar to counter Taliban
insurgents. He was interviewed by the foreign press at the end of May,
a few weeks into the 71st Cavalry Battalion’s deployment and shortly
after an ex-Taliban village leader quit as an informant for NATO forces
in the region. “We have no informants right now, we’re still working on
it. We have been here a month,” he told the reporter. “They’ll
eventually come around. They don’t know you. They don’t trust you when
you first arrive.”
Lt. Theinert’s Army unit was part of the
International Security Assistance Force, the multi-national force
supporting the Afghan government in what the U.S. has dubbed Operation
Enduring Freedom. When the Reporter checked the Enduring Freedom
casualties list for information on Lt. Theinert’s death, there had not
been a death prior to his in many days. Since Thursday, at least 16
NATO soldiers have been killed. Since 2001, 1,099 American soldiers
have died in Afghanistan.
Joseph Theinert graduated from Shelter
Island High School in 2004. He had “an impressive athletic career,” the
Reporter wrote in its Graduation Supplement that year. He competed in
cross country, lacrosse and basketball, was Student Council president
and was crowned king of his senior prom.
The family has established a website with memorial information at fallensoldiersi.com.
schedule of services for Lt. Theinert will be posted on the website when it becomes available.