Tioga County Gold Star parents Charles and Barbara Bilbrey are in the process of moving from Owego to Hinesville, Georgia. The Bilbrey’s have been active in many memorial services and other activities in honor of veterans, and also in memory of their son, Charles Jr., who was killed in action in Iraq on July 26, 2007 while serving in the U.S. Army.
SPC Bilbrey was on a volunteer mission, committing time on a day off to secure a roadway in an Iraqi village. Twenty-one-year old Bilbrey, along with two other soldiers, were killed when their HUMMVV tripped an IED, or Improvised Explosive Device.
Sharing her son Charlie’s story, Barbara remarked, “Has been an opportunity to talk about him and keep his memory alive,” adding, “I believe that as long as someone says his name, he lives on.”
Charlie’s service and sacrifice will always be remembered, too, as an inductee at the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
Looking back, Barbara explained that Charlie first knew he wanted to be in the Army as early as age 12, and following a visit to West Point. Young Charlie was also active for many years with Boy Scout Troop 38.
At Owego Free Academy Charlie played football, lacrosse, and managed the basketball team. Yet, it was a switch to track that gave him a running advantage, and something he had planned on in order to prepare himself for basic training after graduation.
“I am heartbroken about leaving Owego,” Barbara remarked, and explained that a job opportunity her husband has accepted is, “Hard to come by up here.” For herself, she feels confident that she will find another job in her field of nursing.
Charles and Barbara moved to Tioga County in 1989. Barbara is originally from the New York City area and Charles grew up in Endicott. They eventually settled on Owego’s south side for nearly two decades, and where four children were raised and attended Owego schools. Children Brianne, Shannon and Patrick will remain in the Owego area, along with their grandchildren.
When asked what the couple will miss most about the Owego area, Barbara shared, “We will miss the people. We will miss the small communities that take care of each other,” and further added that she will miss chatting with people she enjoyed running into around town.
Hinesville, located about an hour southwest of Savannah, is only a short distance from Fort Stewart, and where son Charlie was stationed before he was deployed.
The Bilbrey’s first visited Fort Stewart in January of 2007. They returned in September that same year for a memorial service in honor of Charlie, and to gather his belongings that had been left there in storage.
Barbara explained that as the first anniversary of Charlie’s death approached in 2008, the family was at a loss about how to get through that day. Ironically, the couple, although unknowing to each other at first, both had the idea of taking a trip to Fort Stewart with their other children
The Bilbrey’s have since traveled annually to Fort Stewart, and where they visit their son’s memorial on base and also eat at Charlie’s favorite restaurants. At the fifth and tenth anniversaries, the 5/7 Cavalry, Charlie’s unit, joined the Bilbrey’s for quiet prayer services in memory of Charlie and the two other soldiers.
“Charlie’s unit, and truly all of the 3rd Infantry Division have been very good to us,” Barbara said, adding, “So, my husband’s job offer in nearby Savannah told us both that we were meant to be there at this time.”
A two-week quarantine is necessary once the couple arrives in Georgia, and where, Barbara mentioned, a spike in COVID-19 cases has been seen.
“Having spent the last five months working with COVID-19 (as a nurse), I realize the challenges and risks that come with it,” Barbara said, adding, “They are still trying to find their balance in Georgia.”
Otherwise the Bilbrey’s look forward to milder winters in Georgia, although dealing with hurricanes will be a new experience. They also plan to participate at Fort Stewart events, among others, once they are settled and events can be resumed.
A final note about Owego, Barbara remarked, “This will always be home for our family, and we will be back to visit,” adding, “This community has stood by us and behind us for the last 13 years to ensure that Charlie is not forgotten.”