Christopher R. Hrbek
Sergeant, United States Marine Corps
Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 034-10
DOD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sergeant Christopher R. Hrbek, 25, of Westwood, New Jersey, died January 14, 2010, while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
For additional background information on this
Marine, news media representatives may contact the II Marine Expeditionary
Force public affairs office at 910-451-7200.
WESTWOOD, New Jersey -- When Sergeant Christopher Hrbek came home today, the people of Westwood stood up for him.
The 25-year-old Marine was killed on January 14, 2010, in Afghanistan, and his town wanted to give him a hero’s return.
Everyone was asked to display flags on their property, or stand with a flag to honor Hrbek has his body was brought home from Dover Air Force base in Delaware this weekend’s funeral.
By this morning, flags were everywhere. On every home and lawn, in every store. Half-staff at the schools and the post office. A giant flag was draped over main street, billowing in the fresh January air.
There was John Misha was putting up flags along the “bare spots” on the route with his helper Juan Tamayo. Misha, a retired fireman who worked at Ground Zero, said he knew “the kid” and his family.
“His stepfather and I grew up here in Westwood. We’re Westwood boys.” He carefully climbed a ladder, trembling with cold and grief, to put a flag up on a phone pole.
At LN Grande 5 & 10, the flag display was front and center, as always. Ida Aboulsaoud was there, buying one to hang in her bagel store. By midday, Korean nail salons and Chinese restaurants all had flags in their windows. Local landscapers draped flags from high-atop their cherry pickers.
And so a few thousand people lined the procession route. Hrbek was a Westwood fire volunteer, and firemen came from about 30 towns in their dress blues to honor him. Old veterans came in their organization jackets and caps. There were soldiers, sailors and Marines. Women walked through the crowds, handing out flags. Mothers came with children, some in strollers. People put Stars & Stripes bandannas on their dogs.
“This is what Westwood does,” said Skip Kelly, a former mayor.
It was a Fourth of July parade, but without noise. The fire engine sirens did not scream, the crowd did not cheer. There were no brass marching bands, only the solemn strains of the bag pipes, the lonely rolls of the snare drums and slow heartbeat of the bass.
In the downtown, the stores emptied as the procession passed. People saluted, or put their hands over their hearts as the black hearse with the flag-draped casket went by. Men were stoned-faced behind sunglasses. The women who came out of the hair salons wept. Somehow, the babies knew to be quiet.
Chris Hrbek was a Westwood boy. His stepfather, Jaymee Hodges, was fire chief and is now a captain. His step-brothers were members, too. Chris started at 16, in the cadet program.
Monte Lucious, himself from a family of Marines and Westwood firefighters, put up a sign on the funeral home lawn today thanking Hrbek for his service.
“This is Mayberry here, man,” said Lucious. “Everybody knows everybody. He was good kid, from stand-up people.”
He went away as Chris Hrbek, a hometown boy, off to the Mideast war with good wishes and grave concerns.
He came back as U.S. Marine Ssergeant Christopher Hrbek, a three-tour veteran of Iraq and a casualty of Afghanistan, brought home in a red, white and blue hero’s procession.
In mid-procession, Hrbek’s hearse passed Veteran’s Memorial Park in the town center, where there is a monument to all the Westwood war dead.
Three Westwood boys died in World War I. Twenty-nine died in WW II, back when Westwood only had a population of 6,100. Korea and Vietnam each claimed one. All those names, engraved in the town’s war dead stone. And now they welcome Christopher Hrbek, whose name will be etched and unveiled in a ceremony on Memorial Day. He is home.
Hundreds in Westwood bid final farewell to fallen Marine
Saturday, January 23, 2010
BY JOSEPH AX AND ALFA GARCIA
Courtesy of North Jersey.Com
WESTWOOD, New Jersey — Chris Hrbek simply did not know how to slow down.
His stepbrothers good-naturedly called him a “pain.” His sisters remembered a kid whose liveliness was without limit. And his best friend told stories about how Hrbek would get himself in trouble with one crazy idea after another.
In the Marine Corps, however, Hrbek found his true calling — and channeled that boundless energy into singular determination.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church to pay their respects to the Westwood firefighter, Marine sergeant and native son nine days after he was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan.
“There will never be another Chris,” said his older sister, Amy Dellentash, at his funeral service. “You are one of a kind, my brother, and you are my hero.”
Close to 400 mourners filled the church, and hundreds more stood outside and listened to the service over a loudspeaker.
Police officers and firefighters from dozens of North Jersey towns and from New York City, where Hrbek’s two stepbrothers work as firefighters, held flags outside the church.
Friends and family recalled the 25-year-old as a fun-loving, dynamic young man whose levity in life was matched only by the seriousness with which he took his job.
“He never knew doubt,” said another sister, Lori Hrbek. “He never knew the phrase ‘I can’t.’ Chris lived his life the way most people only wish they could.”
Weeks before Hrbek’s death, a fellow Marine lost his legs in Afghanistan when he was hit by an explosive device. Hrbek left his covered position and ran to the aid of the man, treating his wounds and moving him to a safe place until he could be rescued — all while under enemy fire.
Hrbek was to have received the Bronze Star for his actions that day.
At the end of the funeral Saturday, the Marines presented his family with posthumous Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals.
Over and over, those who knew him spoke of Hrbek’s military service as a calling. His former commanding officer, Lieuenant Colonel Timothy Parker, said he first got to know Hrbek because, unsurprisingly, Hrbek had gotten himself in trouble.
“He said he would accept the punishment as long as I promised to take him to Iraq,” Parker said.
Hrbek served in Iraq as the lead gunner for the lead vehicle in his patrol and on more than one occasion helped defuse tense situations with quick thinking and a “human touch,” Parker said.
On Saturday, residents lined the street for blocks to the town’s main square, where a massive American flag hung from a gazebo. Some people outside the church — even those who didn’t know Hrbek — said they had come to pay tribute to his heroism.
“This young man gave his life for our freedom,” said Little Egg Harbor resident Richard Deldonna. “This is the least we could do to show our respect. I have children as well. The pain this family must be enduring right now is unbelievable.”
But it was his unflagging vitality that friends and relatives will most remember, they said.
“Chris was loud, full of energy, always getting into trouble,” said his best friend, Billy Phayre. “It was like he was the devil on my shoulder, and I was the angel on his.”
The two friends met as boys at the Westwood firehouse, where Hrbek’s stepfather, JayMee Hodges, and Phayre’s father were both firefighters. They converted Phayre’s garage into their own fire headquarters and spent hours responding to “calls.”
“We may have had the busiest firehouse in Bergen County,” Phayre said. “I can only imagine what the neighbors thought when they saw us riding our bikes in full fire gear, making loud, obnoxious siren noises.”
One of Hrbek’s stepbrothers, Jim Hodges, said during the church service that he and his brother, Beau, never tired of giving Chris a hard time. But Chris knew how to dish it out as well.
Once, Hodges said, he ran out of gas at 2 a.m. in River Edge. He managed to get the car to a gas station on Kinderkamack Road, but the station was closed, so he called Chris and asked him to bring a gas can.
“True to form, Chris came down with the gas can that I asked for — without a drop of gas in it,” he said, as the church filled with laughter.
“I said, ‘What were you thinking?’ And he said, ‘You told me you were at a gas station.’ Chris would do whatever you wanted him to do — you just had to be very specific.”
Hrbek — who is survived by his wife, Jamie Lynn Wengerter — was buried at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus following the funeral.
As the procession made its way through the streets of Westwood, residents lined Washington Avenue, clutching flags and putting hands over their hearts when Hrbek’s casket passed by.
Nick Benanti, a Westwood resident and childhood friend of Hrbek’s, said the entire town is grieving.
“We all feel like we lost a little piece of ourselves,” he said. “It’s something you don’t think about until it happens.”
Sergeant Hrbek will be laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, 8 February 2010.
8 February 2010:
Two busloads of mourners and a police escort left this morning for Arlington National Cemetery, where the remains of Marine Sergeant Christopher Hrbek of Westwood will be laid to rest.
Westwood resident, volunteer firefighter, and Marine Christopher Hrbek was killed in action in Afghanistan. The service is going forward even though much of the Washington area is still crippled by a record-setting blizzard that dumped more than two feet of snow on the Washington area over the weekend.
“They’ve been working over the weekend to have the routes clear so we can have services if the families can make it down,” said Arlington spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst.
Hrbek, 25, was a volunteer fireman in Westwood who was killed January 14, 2010, in Afghanistan. He was serving his fourth combat tour since joining the Marines in September 2001, and was expected to return stateside in May, when he was planning to become a drill sergeant.
The caravan bringing mourners left snow-free North Jersey at 8:30 a.m., and includes escorts from the Westwood and Wayne police departments and the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
“I don’t think anything is going to stop us,” said Wayne police officer Christopher Carbone.
8 February 2010
Courtesy of NorthJersey.Com
Marine Sergeant Christopher Hrbek of Westwood
was laid to rest Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, attended by more
than 100 mourners undeterred by a record blizzard that still hobbled the
nation’s capitol 36 hours after the last snowflake fell.
Many arrived on two buses, which followed a hearse and an escort of police vehicles from Westwood, Wayne and the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office on increasingly snow-clogged roads as the motorcade headed south.
Unable to visit the graveside because of the snow, mourners gathered under a portico near the cemetery’s administration building. Hrbek’s family sat in two rows of velvet-covered chairs as ramrod-straight Marines held the American flag outstretched over Hrbek’s cremated remains.
After Pastor Tom Pranschke of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westwood offered readings and prayers, another team of seven Marines fired a volley of three shots each, and a bugler played “Taps.” Then, Gunnery Sergeant William J. Dixon presented folded flags to Hrbek’s wife, mother and father.
Christopher Hrbek with his dad, Richard Hrbek. “You have my deepest sympathy. Semper fidelis to you and your family,” Dixon said, his hushed recital of the Marine Corps motto clearly audible among the nearly silent crowd.
Hrbek was finishing his third combat tour in Iraq in six years when he re-enlisted for another four years last winter. After a summer back in New Jersey, he headed to Afghanistan in November 1, and in December earned a Bronze Star for coming to the aid of a sergeant major who’d stepped on an explosive device.
He was hoping to return this spring and had applied to become a drill sergeant at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“He was an outstanding Marine,” said Captain Ervin Stone, who remembered Hrbek’s sense of humor when they served together in the Persian Gulf from 2003 to 2006.
“No matter what kind of day it was — it could be 120 degrees out or 10 below — Sgt. Hrbek could always put a smile on your face,” said Stone, who rode up from Camp LeJeune, South Carolina, for the service.
Hrbek was the stepson of a Westwood fire captain whose two brothers are in the New York City Fire Department. His funeral drew a wide array of uniformed officials. A Hillsdale firefighter and two Bergen County sheriff’s officers took pictures and video of the ceremony, while firefighters wearing patches reading “Rescue FDNY,” “Bronx Harlem” and “Harlem Zoo” stood shoulder-to-shoulder with North Jersey police and with rescue teams from Arlington County and Washington, D.C.
Hrbek’s brother, James Hodges, had served as a rescue instructor for the Washington-area teams and they “wanted to come down and be a part of this,” said stepfather JayMee Hodges.
“I don’t think there’s a stronger brotherhood than the fire service,” said Hodges.
He also had high praise for the Marine Corps and its dignity and professionalism “since the day they met me in front of my house and told me the bad news.”
The Arlington ceremony was the second cemetery service for Hrbek. Hodges explained that a coffin containing his stepson’s clothing and some personal effects was buried at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus so there would be a grave nearby the family could visit often. But Arlington was where Hrbek wanted to go.
“Chris would’ve loved this,” Hodges said. “This is what he wanted if he was killed in battle; he told me that once.”
Posted: 6 February 2010 Updated: 8 February 2010 Updated: 9 February 2010
Photo Courtesy of Eileen Horan, April 2010