Some stories of heroism go beyond where they took place, touching and courageous, no matter your politics or country or religion. This story starts with two men from very different walks of life. They were already brave, already courageous, already willing to fight for what they believe in - but their ultimate sacrifice cemented them in history, and our minds, forever.
It was Iraq, 2008. Two men had just met, one of them on his way home, the other just starting a long tour in a foreign country. They were both still young, one 20 and one 22. They were complete strangers to each other. But in a matter of minutes their fates would be sealed forever.
It was April, and two Marine infantry battalions - 2/8 and 1/9 “The Walking Dead” were switching places. One battalion had almost finished their tour, looking forward to going home to their families in excitement. The other was about to take their place for a long and grueling seven month combat tour. Spirits were high for both battalions, and no one could be prepared for what could come next - least of all, two young Marines: Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter.
The two men were 20 and 22, respectively. The two were from wildly different places, with wildly different backgrounds. But they were both marines, and that united them.
Corporal Yale had grown up dirt-poor. He was a mixed-race kid born in Virginia. He had a wife and daughter waiting at home, along with a mother and sister, all of whom he supported by himself on a yearly salary of less than $23,000 - the price for his bravery. He was hard-working and tough. He valued his family and couldn’t wait to see them again.
Lance Corporal Haerter lived in a different world. He’d grown up in Long Island, and lived a fairly comfortable middle-class life. He was brave and excited to fight for his country, a patriot and a Marine through and through.
Both men had survived the crucible of Marine training, and that was the identity that they shared - an identity that meant just as much to them as any other. It was what prepared them for an act of heroism that none could imagine.
Both Marines had been stationed at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser. They were confident and cheerful, with just enough sass to roll their eyes at their Sergeant as they were put on duty. But they took up the role diligently, keeping their eyes peeled for trouble.
They were standing watch over a makeshift building that housed both 50 Marines and 100 Iraqi police, and allies fighting terrorists in Ramadi. The city had been, until recently, the most dangerous on earth, owned by the Al-Qaeda. The brave men regularly risked their lives to make the city safer, and it was Yale’s and Haerter’s job to warn them of danger - a job they took very seriously.
It was only a few minutes after they had relieved the other Marines on watch when disaster hit.
A giant blue truck, filled with explosives sped towards the Marines - towards the barracks, where over 150 men were unaware of the danger.
Later, explosive experts would estimate that over 2,000 pounds of explosives were loaded on the deadly truck. Later, the magnitude of what had happened would hit both the Iraqi and American people.
But it wasn’t later, it was now, and Yale and Haerter had seconds to decide what to do. As they fired at the truck, the barracks exploded with activity. Iraqi police, after firing a few shots, ran for cover.
But Yale and Haerter had a job to do. And they weren’t going to abandon that job.
It was six seconds.
That was how long it took from the truck entering the alley, until it detonated. Yale and Haerter had six seconds. They didn’t know that they had that many, they didn’t care. Because they had a job.
One second - Yale and Haerter understood what was happening. A truck, explosives, hurtling towards them at top speed. No time to ask what to do, no time to do anything but react. They didn’t have to speak, but their mission resonated in their head: Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.
Two seconds - Their feet planted into the ground, the young Marines began firing. The Iraqi police around them began to shoot at the truck as they realized what was happening.
Three seconds - The Iraqi police began running. They were doing what any sane man would do. They had to run - the truck would explode any second. But the Marines weren’t going to let that truck through their entry point. They didn’t move a muscle.
Four, five seconds - The truck’s windshield shattered, the Marine’s steady aim taking out the driver. They had a moment - less than a second - a breath, of satisfaction. The truck wouldn’t get through. They had saved their fellow soldiers.
Over 150 men had been in the barracks that the two young Marines were guarding.
All of them, to a man, survived.
Yale and Haerter had saved them - in the last six seconds they had to live.
After the smoke cleared - long after Marines had returned to their families, and others went on to die fighting against the terrorists - security footage revealed the full story.
Not once did Yale or Haerter - two men separated by income, race, birth, life, status, family - flinch.
Neither hesitated. They leaned in to the truck. Their shoulders set, they stood facing their death proudly and courageously. Because they were Marines, and they had a job, and they had friends in those barracks.
Yale and Haerter’s story won’t - can’t - be forgotten; the two young marines who saw death, and leaned into it.
Their sacrifice for their American and Iraqi brothers is more than just touching, inspiring, heartwarming - it’s fierce, and heroic, and courageous.
As an emotional Iraqi police officer, who had witnessed the bravery, said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. No sane man. They saved us all.”