Texas comes through for Elizabeth woman

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Millie Pracht-Happel was a young girl the day her father was killed by outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, but the state of Texas did not forget her.

Almost, but not quite.

Pracht received one of the Lone Star State’s highest honors more than 78 years after her father, Edward Bryan Wheeler, was gunned down on a lonely Texas road by the notorious pair who were members of the “Barrow Gang.” Wheeler was a 22-year-old Texas highway patrolman who, with his partner, was checking on what they thought were stranded motorists.

According to the yellowed newspaper clippings Pracht keeps in her Elizabeth home, witnesses say the “motorists” were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who killed the patrol officers and fled in their vehicle.

It was Easter Sunday, 1934. At the time, Pracht was 4 years old and living with her mother. Her parents were divorced and Pracht and her sister soon lost contact with her father’s extended family.

On April 1, 2011, 77 years after her father’s death, the state of Texas gifted her father’s sister with the Yellow Rose of Texas award, an honor given to the families of fallen officers. State officials had no idea Pracht existed and thought they had found Wheeler’s only living relative.

On July 10, Maj. Richard Diegelman, with the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove more than 500 miles from his post in Lubbock to right that wrong.

Traveling with him was a Yellow Rose of Texas award bearing Pracht’s name and a framed photo of her dad, patrol officer Wheeler.

“It’s beautiful,” Pracht said, wiping tears from her eyes when Diegelman unveiled the award. “Thank you so much.”

The award presentation was an intimate occasion in Pracht’s Elizabeth home, where her extended family welcomed Kenny Wheeler, a Texas cousin several times removed, who also grew up hearing stories about the family’s Barrow Gang connection.

Diegelman, who is one of six majors in the Texas state patrol division, opted to deliver the award in person, rather than mail it to Pracht.

“It just seemed the right thing to do,” he said. “I wanted to meet the family.”

Pracht’s extended family pored over photos and newspaper clippings that were nearly eight decades old.

“It’s so nice of them to do this after all these years,” said Donna Mobley, Pracht’s daughter.

Mobley, of Centennial, is among Pracht’s four children who attended the award presentation. She was joined by her son Edward “Ned” Mobley, who was named after his great-grandfather.

“You tell people about (the story) and they just don’t believe you,” Mobley said. “It’s like, why would I make it up?”