A town that has withstood more than its share of heartache bonded like family for the dedication of its post office to a fallen hero, Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek, as hundreds gathered on a solemn day to turn tragedy into tribute. “What a beautiful day and a beautiful dedication,” Kelly Morrison-Phykitt said after the ceremony, “a real honor for a real hero.”
Chris Hrbek’s mom, Cheryl Hodges
“People who enter the post office can tell their children about him and the sacrifices he made for this country,” said Hrbek’s mother, Cheryl Hodges, as the sun shone directly on the newly-christened Sergeant Christopher R. Hrbek Post Office Building.
Hanging from the top of a fire truck ladder above Westwood Avenue was the same U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. after Hrbek, 25, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan in mid-January.
A volunteer borough firefighter from a family of firefighters, Hbrek was extremely popular in town, known for his playful nature and dedication to others.
He was about to return home after three tours of duty in Iraq and a brief hitch in Afghanistan to receive a Bronze Star for saving his sergeant major, who had stepped on a crude explosive device while under fire just before Christmas last year.
PHOTO SLIDESHOW :
The stepson of Westwood fire captain JayMee Hodges, Hrbek planned to join the New York City Fire Department, where his two brothers work.
But in January, a similar device detonated, killing him.
“He risked his life to help save his brother Marine, and, in a twist of fate, he was taken from us three weeks later,” Cheryl Hodges told the crowd on Saturday. “If we could ask him, he’d say he’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Born on June 6, 1984, Hrbek was graduated from Westwood High School in 2002. He joined the Marines in January 2003 and served as an artillery cannoneer assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“I know Chris is up there right now, gathering up all the Marines in heaven and saying, ‘Dude, check it out, they’re naming a post office after me. Which one of you boots can top that?’” said fellow platoon member Gunnery Sgt. Phillip Anderson, who also is stationed at Camp Lejeune.
It was one of the lighter moments of the dedication of the building, which n
ow boasts a plaque in Hrbek’s honor.
“I am the backbone of the Marine Corps,” Hrbek proudly wrote after being pr omoted to sergeant. “I serve as a vital link between my commander and all enlisted Marines. I will never forget who I am or what I represent.
“I am now, more than ever, committed to excellence in all that I do, so that I can set the proper example for all other Marines.
“Above all, I will be truthful in all that I say or do. My integrity shall be impeccable as my appearance….Though today I instruct and supervise in peace, tomorrow I may lead in war.”
Photos by Lesley Whyard
PREVIOUS STORIES :
***Westwood hero buried in Arlington
***Homecoming fit for a hero
***Hero’s remains returned
***Hero’s welcome was already planned at home when tragic news came
***Bergen Marine killed in Afghanistan
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.