Clutching American flags under a crisp azure sky, hundreds of residents lined the streets of Waldwick Tuesday to pay their last respects to fallen Staff Sgt. Joseph D’Augustine, who was killed last week in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
D’Augustine, a 29-year-old explosive ordinance disposal technician and 2001 graduate of Waldwick High School, received a hero’s return with a procession through his hometown.
The procession started at the Route 17 north exit ramp at Sheridan Avenue, went past his home on Campbell Street, through the center of town on East Prospect Street and to Waldwick High School, before it circled back around to St. Luke’s Church in Ho-Ho-Kus.
“It’s an honor to be here for someone who gave his life for me … even though it’s not someone I know,” said Judy Mullane, a patriotically-dressed Wyckoff resident. “It doesn’t matter what town you come from. They all deserve the honor of what they’ve done, where they’ve served.”
A group of D’Augustine’s high school classmates huddled solemnly with their families on East Prospect Street in the center of town, a large American flag jointly suspended by Waldwick and Wyckoff-area fire engines hovering overhead.
“My husband and I both graduated with Joe in 2001,” said Tatiana Marquis, who like many of D’Augustine’s former classmates, wore a baby blue t-shirt with his high school nickname “Daggo,” and his football number “4” printed on the back to memorialize her friend.
“He was just a really light-hearted, happy person and liked to make people smile and that’s the way that we’re all going to remember him.”
Marquis said she and her husband, also named Joe, had kept in close touch with D’Augustine after high school and regularly got together with him when he was home on leave.
“My husband was emailing with him up until a few weeks ago,” she said.
D’Augustine’s death was compounded by the fact he was expected back home in a couple weeks for his sister Nicole's wedding.
“Nicole is getting married next month and I think that was like the light at the end of the tunnel, was to get to that point where he could come home for the wedding,” Marquis said.
Supporting a grieving family during a time of loss is one that resonates with Michael Drungoole, who traveled from Dumont for the procession.
Drungoole, a Vietnam veteran, said he’s especially sensitive to the needs of military families who have lost a loved one because he served as a notification and next-of-kin officer after returning from Vietnam.
“When tragedies like this happened, I would be the one going to a home and knocking on the door, informing the mother, the father, the brother, the sister, the aunt that they just lost a family member,” he said. “It’s brutal. I’ve watched parents collapse in the hallway, on the job. I had one mother jump into the coffin with her child. It’s tough duty.”
Drungoole said he's attended multiple events for fallen soldiers throughout Bergen County in recent years, and although he didn't know D'Augustine personally, he was compelled to attend.
"I try to show my respect to a fallen comrade," he said. "It’s a horrible tragedy. This young man, he obviously did what he wanted to do. He served his country proudly."
D’Augustine, who left for the Marines the day after he graduated from Waldwick High School, had served two tours in Iraq and was on his second deployment in Afghanistan.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday at St. Luke's Church in Ho-Ho-Kus, followed by an interment at St. Luke's cemetery.