Stories of Service and Sacrifice at Bay Street

Chrystyna Kestler, whose son Army Lt. Joseph J. Theinert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, will speak about her experiences along with four veterans at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor next week.

Four Shelter Island veterans and the mother of a Shelter Island soldier killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 will come together on the stage of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor to share stories about their service, their lives, and their losses on Friday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. 

The production is a collaboration between the Telling Project, a nonprofit that uses theater to “deepen our understanding of the military and veterans’ experiences,” and the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund, founded by the family of Army First Lt. Joseph J. Theinert. 

This will mark the third time that the two organizations have teamed up to bring veterans’ and military families’ stories to the stage and the second time featuring local veterans. Lieutenant Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler, is one of the participants. 

“We all need to talk about the things that profoundly affect us,” she said last week. “We really need to share our stories, and maybe we can come to some common ground, which is so important these days.” Her son was 24 when he was killed.

Joining her will be Michael Zachariah Mundy, a Marine veteran who was deployed once to Afghanistan; Tom Spotteck, a Marine veteran twice deployed to Afghanistan; Jim Colligan, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army, and Howard Jackson, who served in the Army in World War II. 

At the outset of this year’s project, the five told their stories to a writer, Max Rayneard, who then wove them together “so you can see the connections and you can see how one dovetails with another,” Ms. Kestler said. “You see how their experiences are similar, but also different.” 

“It’s great therapy, telling your story, just getting things out,” she said. The resulting program makes for a powerful evening, both for the participants and the audience. 

This event is just one of many efforts the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund undertakes to aid veterans and military families. Since its inception the organization has given out more than $100,000 in scholarships and has helped turn a New Mexico ranch owned by Ms. Kestler and her husband, Francis Kestler, into a retreat where active and veteran military members, their families, and Gold Star families can come together for team-building exercises. The Kestlers bought the Magdalena, N.M., property thinking Mr. Kestler and his stepson would use it for hunting; it is now called Strongpoint Theinert Ranch. 

The Telling Project presentation at Bay Street falls two days after Lieutenant Theinert’s birthday; he would have turned 32. 

“Joe’s not here to continue his mission, but we can,” Ms. Kestler said, through the organization founded in his memory. Its work has been both a tribute to him and a sort of salvation for those who knew and loved him. “When you’re in service to others, you get help yourself — you get out of yourself.” 

There is no charge for the Bay Street program, but a suggested donation of $20 per person will benefit the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund. Seats can be reserved at jjtmf.org.