Huntington family receives Purple Heart 21 years after first awarded

Huntington family receives Purple Heart 21 years after first awarded
Source: Johnna Lowe Gibson
Source: Johnna Lowe Gibson

HUNTINGTON, TX (KTRE) - An Angelina County family has finally received an honor that is over two decades overdue.

On June 10, 1992, Corrigan Police officer Charles Billeck was responding to a call when he was hit and killed on Highway 59.

"He's a real good policeman," said Billeck's mother, Billie. "He was respected and he was just a great guy."

On May 22, 1993, the government would award him with the law enforcement Purple Heart citation for dying in the line of duty. The award never made it to Billeck's family. Instead, it sat in an office at the Amarillo Police Department for 21 years. Billeck's was not the only one there. There were also three other Purple Hearts for fallen officers not belonging to Amarillo Police.

Police Chief Darrell Gibson said the Amarillo police contacted his office about four weeks ago when he received a letter that stated,

"I still do not know how our Department came across these four citations for valor, however; I am determined to make sure they get to the families as they are deserved."

Gibson said before Amarillo PD sent the awards to the loved one's families, they held a special ceremony to honor each one. When Gibson notified the Billeck family of the award, they were in shock.

"I thought it was awful strange to wait this long to do this," said Billeck's father Leonard.

"We thought it was a scam," Billeck's sister, Judy Betz. "Nobody ever heard of a Purple Heart for law enforcement, so we looked it up on the internet, but we were real thrilled when we found out it wasn't because we always thought it was for military."

Billeck's son, Chris, was five years-old when he died, so to him the award is still a surprise but also a way to learn more about his father.

"I didn't realize it until last night [that it was from 1993]," Chris said. "I thought it was given out this year, then I read the award at the end of the paper and it said 1993, and I was like what's going on."

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, Gibson held a small ceremony for the Billeck family at City Hall in Corrigan. Gibson said he never knew Billeck, but feels a connection to him through the brotherhood that all officers share.

"There's not anything any of us can tell them that's going to fill that void," Gibson said. "It's always going to be there so this is just one more thing that is going to add closure to their scars."

It's closure that the Billeck family has been waiting on for 21 years.

Copyright 2014 KTRE.