Monday, August 06, 2007

Charlie Bilbrey laid to rest

OWEGO -- A horse-drawn wagon moved slowly down Main Street carrying the casket of Charles E. Bilbrey Jr. to St. Patrick's Church.

His parents, Charles and Barbara Bilbrey of Owego, walked behind the casket Saturday, holding hands on the way to the Mass of Christian Burial for their 21-year-old son.

Boy Scouts from Troop 38, the troop Bilbrey once belonged to, and motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders and American Legion Riders, stood along the route and by the church holding American flags in honor of the U.S. Army Specialist 4th Class who was killed in Iraq July 27 when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle.

Across the street, Charles Newman, of Binghamton, stood at attention, too. He didn't know Bilbrey, but his son, Charles Jr., 21, did. They worked and trained together in the same unit, Cavalry 5-7 of the 3rd Infantry Division, he said.

"This kind of hits home," Newman said, adding it's important to honor all those who are making sacrifices. His own son was wounded in Iraq, suffering a concussion and fractures, and is now recovering at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Many in the community took time Saturday to pay their respect. About 50 people stood outside the church before, and after, the service. Some held small flags given to them by Owego's VFW Junior Girls.

Other people stood in small groups along the route of the cortege. A large crowd gathered at the Tioga County Courthouse to watch the funeral procession pass on the way to the burial at St. Patrick's Cemetery.

About 300 people, most wearing white ribbons in memory of Bilbrey, filled the pews inside the church. Among those in attendance was Brigadier General Robert Caslen Jr., commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, who presented military medals -- including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- to Bilbrey's parents.

Caslen paid tribute to Bilbrey as one of the small minority of Americans who are standing in the gap against the evils of religious extremism. He called them "the 9/11 generation" who are becoming "the greatest generation of today."

Some outside the church and along the route knew Bilbrey. Many others had never met him. They just felt it was important to be there.

"Everyone looked up to Charlie. I wanted to honor what he did for me and the troop," said Alex MacDonald, 17, of Owego, a member of Boy Scout Troop 38 as he stood along the route with his brother, Ian, 14, also a Scout.

"It's important for all veterans to be remembered," said Lisa Styles, of Vestal, who held an American flag with her daughter, Emily, 13. Her son has been with the U.S. Army in Iraq for five months, and has 10 more months to go.

Styles felt more people should have been outside the church. It shows "this war is not being shared by the American public," she said. The pain is being shared only by the families of those who are serving, she added.

Before the service, the cortege paused for several minutes outside the church, almost frozen in time. The military honor guard stood at attention. Mourners remained in their cars. Talking stopped. The only sound was that of one car's engine.

Then, the casket was carried into the church where the American flag was replaced by a white pall that symbolizes Christian baptism.

The gospel message of John 15:12-15, read by Deacon Gary DiLallo, included the words: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

During his homily, the Rev. John DeSocio, pastoral vicar of St. Patrick's, remembered Bilbrey as someone who loved the outdoors and had a deep commitment to service. "There were times he made mistakes like all of us. We're not perfect. But he learned from his mistakes to be a man, to be a Christian and to be a soldier."

The service was profoundly sad because young people are being killed for a war the United States shouldn't have fought in the first place, said Mike Sedlack, of Johnson City, a Marine Corps veteran, as he stood across the street from the church. It's time to leave Iraq, he said.

Bilbrey was a member of many families, DeSocio said: The family of the Owego community; the family of St. Patrick's Church; the family of the U.S. Army; and the family of the nation for which he gave so much.

"Today, all of us come together as part of a larger family," DeSocio said.

During the service, soloist Virginia Young sang "Ave Maria" and Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Think of Me." They were requests of the family, she said.

"Think of Me" concludes with the words: "Flowers fade, the fruits of summer fade -- they have their seasons so do we -- But please promise me that sometimes you will think of me."

From the Sun Bulletin

Related Link:
Charlie Bilbrey remembered

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