A New Jersey Marine based in North Carolina has died in combat in Afghanistan two weeks before he was due to come home.
The Defense Department says Staff Sgt. Joseph D'Augustine died in the Helmand province.
The 29-year-old from Waldwick, N.J., was assigned to an explosive ordnance disposal unit from the 8th Engineer Support Battalion of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, part of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
D'Augustine was due to return home in just over two weeks, in time for his sister's wedding. Thursday, his family left their New Jersey home to retrieve his body from Dover Air Force base.
The news of D'Augustine's death spread quickly in the tight-knit suburb of Waldwick, where he graduated from Waldwick High School in 2001. Flags flew at half-staff at the town library, the police station, restaurants and businesses in honor of the young man who many remembered for his smile.
"He was the class clown who made everybody laugh, and that's what he was all about," said classmate Tatiana Marquis. "Just about making everyone smile and happy."
D'Augustine's high school social studies teacher Jonathan Nochese remembered him as a motivated teenager who was looking for ways to make a difference. "When I found out the news, it was devastating."
A linebacker for the high school football team and one of the school's star wrestlers, D'Augustine joined the Marines the day after graduation. The next time his classmates and teachers saw him at Waldwick High, the beloved "class clown" was in another league.
"When he came back to visit, I saw a changed man," said English teacher James Wilson. "Not a boy, a changed man. He really got it. He was one of the kids you could tell, he got what life was about and what you were supposed to do."
Coach Jim Dreschel said, "When he was a student, he was looking for direction. He wasn't sure how good he would be in college.
"He chose the Marines and it really straightened him out," said Dreschel. "It gave him direction and he showed a lot of loyalty, and was very proud to serve his country."
Funeral arrangements for D'Augustine are not yet finalized, but one thing is for certain: When he does come home, this borough plans to line the streets in his honor.
"We're not asking the community to do it, they're telling us they want to be here to do it," said Mayor Thomas Giordano.
The young staff sergeant had done four tours of duty overseas, including two in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
Gov. Chris Christie said he was saddened to learn of D'Augustine's death and that he planned to issue an executive order to lower flags to half-staff in his honor.
"The town, Joe's family, the country lost a good Marine, but Heaven gained a great angel," said classmate Joel Pinkler.
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