Bergen County Honors a Fallen Hero

Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek is coming home

By Pat Battle
|  Friday, Jan 22, 2010  |  Updated 8:40 AM EDT
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Fallen Soldier Returns Home

AP

Bob Struss puts American Flags on his fence Jan. 21, outside his home in Westwood, N.J. as the small northern New Jersey town prepares for the return of Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek.

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Fallen Soldier Returns Home

A somber scene in New Jersey, as a fallen hero returned to his hometown. Marine Sergeant Christopher Hrbek lost his life in Afghanistan. Pat Battle was there as hundreds turned out to honor his memory.
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Some are small, on slender wooden poles,  stuck into the frostbitten soil.

Others fly from telephone poles and lightposts, flapping majestically in the cold breeze of a winter's day. Some fly at half staff from flagpoles outside homes, government and commercial buildings.

And there are hundreds of them... American flags gracing virtually every street of this Bergen County community - Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek is coming home.

"Between the tears, there is a lot of joy," said Westwood Mayor John Birkner Jr. "Chris died doing what he loved doing, he was a Marine through and through."

 The 25 year old U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant was killed January 14 when his family says he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Hamal Province of Afghanistan.  

"He was my hero" said his stepfather Jaymee Hodges.

A local fire captain, Hrbek had followed his dad's long family history of public service - he was a firefighter here for 9 years before going off to serve a greater community - his country. His father said he knew the dangers he was facing and had told him.

"If I don't make it, please line the streets with American flags to bring me home," recalled the Mayor Birkner.

And that they did.

Two fire trucks hoisted a massive American flag into the air across the road in front of Westwood Regional Jr-Sr. High school where Christopher was graduated in 2002. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday. And re-inlisted twice since then - serving three tours of duty in Iraq.

"This town just doesn't know what to do with this," said Lee Tremble, owner of the Iron horse restaurant across from Veterans Park where the procession will soon pass. 

"This is a close knit town and to lose someone we all know and love, it's overwhelming."

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