Fond farewell for NJ Marine killed in Afghanistan

The News Leader

January 24, 2010 10:46:15 AM PST
Hundreds of mourners gather in northern New Jersey for the funeral of a Marine killed in Afghanistan. Speaking during Saturday's service at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westwood, friends and family said Sgt.

Christopher Hrbek truly enjoyed serving his country. They said the 25-year-old artilleryman found his true calling in the Marines, describing it as "the perfect avenue" for his seemingly boundless energy.

About 400 mourners packed the Bergen County church, while hundreds more gathered outside and listened to the service over loudspeakers. And as the procession made its way to the cemetery, residents clutching American flags lined local streets to watch.

Hrbek was killed Jan. 14 by an improvised explosive device during a combat operation in Helmand Province. He had joined the Marines in 2002, shortly after graduating from Westwood High School, and was a nine-year member of the Westwood Fire Department who came from a family of firefighters.

During the funeral service, the Marines presented Hrbek's family with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. The former was in recognition for his efforts in Afghanistan last month, when a fellow Marine lost his legs after being hit by an improvised explosive device.

Hrbek left his covered position and ran to the man's aid, officials said, treating his wounds and moving him to a safe place until he could be rescued - all while under enemy fire.

"He never knew doubt. He never knew the phrase, 'I can't,"' said his sister Lori Hrbek. "Chris lived his life the way most people only wish they could."