Small New Jersey town honors big sacrifice of fallen heroes who died defending their country

HAWTHORNE, New Jersey (WABC) -- This Memorial Day, towns across the country are honoring their fallen heroes, but one small town in New Jersey made a big sacrifice.

Over the last seven decades, 72 men -- some from the very same block -- tragically died defending our country. Now their service is being made a permanent part of the streets where the lived.

As the marching bands and firetrucks made their way through town on Memorial Day, once the drumbeat fades and the flag waving stops, the streets of Hawthorne, New Jersey, will keep telling their silent but powerful story of duty and of honor.

"My father and my uncle were in the Navy, my grandpa was in World War I," said Melissa Mogen, who lives on Kingston Avenue which is bookended with signs renaming the street and its corners after several heroes.

Six sons who once played on the short block died in service.

"I realized we have about 80 names on our monument and everyone who fought and never came home deserved to have a street named after them," Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg said.

Mayor Goldberg said renaming Hawthorne's streets became part of a mission for Paul Chepurko who felt a kinship to young Marine Billy Dutches, a Lance Corporal killed in south Vietnam in 1966. Dutches' friends lobbied for his street sign.

Chepurko wrote a book "Small Town Big Sacrifice" about the Hawthorne and North Haledon servicemen who died fighting.

Three times a year, Hawthorne's street corners are renamed and dedicated, and organizers say they've seen tremendous closure for families who have come from as far away as Washington State.

Zoe Mogen helped mark her lawn with American Flags along Kingston Avenue where so many residents are remembered. Her dad is a Hawthorne firefighter and she continues the history of her family's service to the community as a daisy scout.

"It's incredible, it means a lot, I get choked up, so many people did so much for us," her mom Melissa said.

Operation Fallen Hero began in 2011 and they won't stop until all of Hawthorne's soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice have a street sign named for them.

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