Two new roads that hundreds of Fort Mill children will begin traveling this fall will honor T.J. Dudley and Paul Neff, Fort Mill High School graduates killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The construction of Doby’s Bridge Elementary School includes two new access roads. Town planners recommended two names for those roads to the developer:
• Neff Court, in honor of Army Staff Sgt. Paul M. Neff II, who was killed in 2003 when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq.
• Dudley Drive, in remembrance of Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Dudley, who was killed in 2011 during combat in Afghanistan.
The Fort Mill Planning Commission recommended the street names, and the developer and York County officials have agreed.
“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.”
Mary Dudley, widow of T.J. Dudley, lives in Jacksonville, N.C., now with three children ages 4 to 16.
“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.”
Fort Mill is where the Dudleys 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.”
Janet Davis, and her daughter Melissa, who went to school with Dudley, have organized 5K races to honor him. 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 – people, she said, who put themselves and their safety in harm’s way to protect 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.”