Monday, July 30, 2007

Charlie Bilbrey remembered

Charles Bilbrey, Charlie as his family calls him, had dreamed of being in the army since the age of 10.

That dream came to a tragic end on Thursday in Iraq.

His family says the oldest brother of four wasn't a fighter, but a peacemaker.

"He had a very strong sense of what's right and what's wrong. Very early on he knew he wanted to be a United States soldier," said his mother Barbara Bilbrey.

It's still tough for his nine year old brother patrick to talk about.

"Proud and sad," Patrick Bilbrey said.

The family says Charlie had a unique sense of humor.

He was friends with everyone.

And he was the glue that kept the family together.

"He's been a big part of this family. He's always been the star of this family," said sister Brianna Bilbrey.

They keep his star in their front window.

His father last spoke with Charlie a week before his death.

"You knew he was fine for the rest of that day. But the next day you go back to worrying," Charles Bilbrey Sr. said.

The family is not only grieving, but they are celebrating the life and legacy in their Owego home.

The football and lacrosse player excelled in the military, and planned to become an army ranger.

His mother will always remember his last visit home.

"He couldn't be within a foot of me those 15 days where he didn't pull me, grab me, and hold me, and hold me as tight as he could. And that's what I'll always carry with me," Barbara Bilbrey said.
Although Charlie won't be coming home the family will continue to support the troops by displaying this yellow ribbon in their backyard.


OWEGO -- U.S. Army Specialist Fourth Class Charles E. Bilbrey Jr., 21, of Owego, was killed in Iraq Friday after an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle in Diyala province, his parents said.

The soldier's father, Charles Sr., said his son's captain told him two other U.S. soldiers died in the attack.

"He had volunteered for a risky mission," Charles Sr. was told.

My son's captain "referred to him as a soldier's soldier. He had no fear of anything. I think that's why he volunteered for these risky missions," said his father.

Charles Jr.'s mother, Barbara Bilbrey, said her son will be buried in Owego with a full military service. Services are expected later this week.

Today, the reality of Charles Jr.'s death was still settling in as the family tried to stay busy. Charles' Jr.'s 18-year-old sister, Shannon, was out with a friend, and his 9-year-old brother, Patrick, was just leaving the family's Valley Road home in Owego for a baseball game.

Before going he said, "I really miss him, and he's a good brother."

Another sister, Brianne, 19, recalled her brother's love of the Japanese card game YuGiOh! and how he taught Patrick to count at the age of 3 by playing the game. She also laughed about Charles' antics in school.

"Charlie was a riot," she said. When he won the position of class treasurer at Owego Free Academy his speech was, "I'm Charles Bilbrey and I'm too cool for this microphone. Peace out," she said with a laugh.

His parents laughed as they recalled their son's recent chance meeting with Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar in an airport.

While Sammy signed an autograph, Charles Jr. said, "I liked Van Halen better when it had David Lee Roth (the band's original lead singer)." Hagar ripped up the autograph.

"He was just that type of kid," said his father.

They also said Charles Jr. would be proud for people to know that he and his friends were once asked to leave an all-you-can-eat buffet because they ate so much food. Charles Jr. was not fat, just a good eater, his parents said.

The mood changed in the house, however, when Charles Sr. played an answering machine message his son left a week ago. Charles Jr.'s tired voice greeted his parents through a broken satellite transmission.

"We'll keep that always," said his father. His mother could no longer keep from crying.

She said the reality won't hit her fully until she sees her son's body.

"I think we're somewhat in shock," said Charles Sr.

Charles Jr. enlisted in the Army a year before he graduated from Owego Free Academy in June 2005. His goal was to become an Army Ranger, and he climbed two ranks during his short time in the military. He was deployed to Iraq in January with Cavalry 5-7 of the 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

His mother said when he arrived in Kuwait he called home and told her, "This place looks like Dr. Seuss built it," because of the buildings' alien architecture.

Barbara said when her son first arrived in Iraq he asked his family to send jolly ranchers so he could give them to the Iraqi children.

The last the family knew, Charles Jr. had been doing door-to-door searches in Diyala province.

From the Sun Bulletin

Related Link:
Charles E. Bilbrey Jr. reported killed in Iraq