AUSTIN (CBS 11 NEWS) – Texas’ everyday heroes were recognized and remembered today in Austin as Gov. Rick Perry called Texas police officers, firefighters and first-responders the “best the state has to offer” as he presented the ‘Star of Texas’ awards. The award was created in 2003 to honor public servants killed or seriously injured in the line of duty.
“Texas first responders know there is no such thing as routine,” said the Governor at the ceremony held at an Austin church. “That certainly was the case in West.”
Today’s ceremony included the 12 who died rushing to fight the flames that triggered the West fertilizer plant blast in April.
“It’s getting better,” says West volunteer firefighter Robert Payne. “But, you’re never going to get over something like that.”
Payne was so close to the exploding fertilizer plant that he was blown out of his boots. His body was battered—but, his heart was broken at the loss of close friends and colleagues. He says he was humbled and grateful for the governor’s acknowledgement of the community’s deep loss.
“It’s still painful, every day. And it’s going to continue that way for years to come.”
Also receiving Star of Texas awards were Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia. They were gunned down in March, following the slaying of Assistant DA Mark Hasse, who was also honored.
Governor Perry called the award recipients “people for whom honor and courage and dedication are a way of life. People who exemplify the meaning of love thy neighbor.”
A group of Arlington motorcycle officers traveled to the ceremony to honor two of their officers receiving awards.
“They’ll never be forgotten,” said veteran officer Crpl. Dick Hill, as the motorcade made a rest stop on the return trip. Arlington Officer Toby Douglass was seriously injured. Motorcycle officer Craig Story was killed in the line of duty in January of 2010.
“It meant a lot,” said Crpl. Hill. “It means a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to everybody that came down, as well as the ones that got the award. You don’t do the job for the accolades; but, it is nice to be recognized.”
As still grieving family members accepted the awards, the governor spoke directly to their sacrifice.
“They helped spare countless others the type of pain you’ve experienced. Know they lived in the most noble fashion possible, placing the lives of others above their own safety.”
Dallas Fire Rescue Captain Kenneth “Lucky” Harris, Jr. was among those who died in West. Another Dallas firefighter, Stanley Wilson, was also honored. Wilson was killed fighting a fire earlier this year.
Dallas Police officers Watt Carroll, Jr., Samuel Hussey and Matthew Wagner were all honored with Star of Texas awards after sustaining serious injuries. Fort Worth police officer Josh Bell, and Granbury police officer Chad Davis were honored, as was Montague County Sheriff’s deputy James Boyd.
In West, word traveled quickly about the Governor’s sincerity and sympathy during the ceremony.
“From the people I talked to, one mentioned that he not only shook hands; but, he gave them a hug and greeted them warmly. It was… very appreciated,” says firefighter Payne. “I know the families all enjoyed the award and being there; but, they would give anything to not be in that spot. We all would.”
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