FORT MILL — At the town’s request, the roads to a new school will soon honor Fort Mill men who died in service to their country.
The construction of Doby’s Bridge Elementary School includes two new access roads. The school opens to students this fall. The new roads need names, and town planners recommended to the developer two names – those of Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Dudley and Army Staff Sgt. Paul M. Neff II.
At its June 25 meeting, the town’s planning commission recommended the names Dudley Drive and Neff Court. The developer and county office in charge of road naming previously agreed to the names, according to the town.
“Naming roads after people who have not only served their town, but the country, is a great way of recognizing service and sacrifice,” said Mayor Danny Funderburk. “This is a most appropriate method for naming roads.”
Both Dudley and Neff both went to Fort Mill High School. Neff was killed in 2003 when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Dudley was killed in 2011 during combat in Afghanistan.
Mary Dudley, widow of T.J. Dudley, lives in Jacksonville, N.C., now with three children ages 4 to 16. She calls the road naming “fitting.”
“I was just proud to be his wife,” she said. “I was proud to be the mother of his three kids. For them to name a road after him, that’s a beautiful thing for our kids to see that their dad isn’t forgotten.”
Dudley said she and T.J. loved Fort Mill. It’s where they grew up and met. His decision to make a career in the military was a decision to serve his community and country, she said.
“It’s just a great reminder for everyone to remember his whole career,” Dudley said.
A host of military tribute sites list Neff and comments from around the country thanking him for his sacrifice. Fallenheroesmemorial.com alone shows condolences from Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, Montana and Hawaii, among others.
“Just about everything I know about being a fair and just leader I learned from him,” wrote Sgt. Lelan Gimnick, so moved by Neff’s example that Gimnick named his firstborn son Zane Paul. “He inspired me to both professional and personal excellence, and I will (not) forget the lessons learned from his wisdom and example.”
The site also includes posts from Fort Mill, where one commenter recalled how unsurprising it was that Neff would serve in the military based on his time in a local Boy Scout troop.
“There is no greater gift one can give to another than to lay down their life to keep them free,” said a post from someone who identified as B. Helms. “Paul was one of those elite individuals wiling to do so.”
Janet Davis and her daughter Melissa, who went to school with Dudley, held a couple of 5K events to honor him after his death. They weren’t able to hold one this year. Davis commended the town for its decision to put Dudley’s name in a place where so many will see it.
“That would be awesome that they would do that,” she said.
Davis and her family regularly hold or help with events honoring the military, police, firefighters. For people, she said, who put themselves and their safety in harm’s way for others.
“We have to keep those memories intact,” Davis said. “They’re heroes, and we know they’re heroes, but we need to remember why they’re heroes.”
John Marks • 803-831-8166