Enquirer Herald

Local vet's name added to county memorial in Filbert

A third-generation monument engraver who has another full-time job in heating and air conditioning woke up Saturday morning and gave away half of his day.

Brandon Wiley was proud to donate his time, and his skills, because an important name had to be etched on a stone in tiny Filbert between York and Clover, within feet of the rush of busy highway U.S. 321.

"I just want it to be perfect," said Wiley, saying the same words that he and his daddy and granddaddy said for the 207 names on this monument before Saturday. The late Bill Wiley, who ran the Wiley Brothers Marble & Granite Works in York for decades, donated the huge granite slabs for the York County Veterans Memorial. The stones alone cost more than $15,000 twenty-five years ago. Wiley donated them anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Bill Wiley and his son, Billy, etched the names for the World War I dead, and the dead from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, too. Since the wars started in Iraq and Afghanistan almost 10 years ago, three names had to be added: Paul Neff II, Pat Leach, Kenneth Butler.

And on Saturday, Thomas J. Dudley.

Thomas J. Dudley, a Fort Mill kid who grew into a man and served six combat tours with the Marines, died July 7 in Afghanistan.

That's why a man named Wiley gave up a Saturday morning.

"I hate it for the family, but I am proud to do this," said Brandon Wiley, as he unpacked his sandblasting gear that has been in the family since soldiers from York County died on Flanders fields and Pacific beaches. "My grandfather cared so much about this monument. My dad, too. They cared about these heroes."

Staff Sgt. Thomas "T.J." Dudley was heroic. He was a volunteer at the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department before he was out of high school. He had a wife and three kids, and as a staff sergeant, he put the lives of his own men before his own - until bullets hitting a helicopter killed him.

The York County Veterans Council, a group of veterans and representatives from service organizations that administers the monument at Lakeview Memory Gardens cemetery, met last week to discuss adding Dudley's name to the 207 other names. The discussion lasted about 12 seconds.

"The vote was unanimous; of course Staff Sgt. Dudley, who died for his country and was from Fort Mill, would go up on our monument," is how T.J. Martin of York, a Korean War POW and veterans council chair, put it after the vote. "He earned his name up on that wall. That wall is for those who died in wars. Our great men. Ours."

So Brandon Wiley went to work Saturday, for free, to honor one of ours who did not come home alive.

Brandon punched out a stencil of Dudley's name using special foam material after first matching the letter sizes to the existing wall. He glued the foam stencil to the stone, then cranked up an ancient steel generator attached to a special engraver's trailer he pulls behind his truck. Then Brandon Wiley put on a hood to protect his face, and sandblasted the letters.

T-h-o-m-a-s. J. D-u-d-l-e-y.

He said nothing because there were no words needed to sandblast letters that became words that are the name of a dead Marine who left a wife and three kids. He just worked.

Nearby in that "Field of Honor" part of the cemetery where veterans are buried, a truck pulled up and a man from Camden who grew up in Clover got out. John Durai looked at his mother's grave and his father's grave - a World War II veteran - side-by-side. Durai wondered what was being done to the veterans monument. He found out it was addition of the name of a Marine killed in action.

"Great thing, adding that name," said Durai. "Now everybody can see it. And know what he gave up for the rest of us: his life."

Durai left, and Brandon Wiley finished up after sandblasting, painting the letters black. Then Brandon cleaned the sand and dust from the monument, and then he scrubbed it first with gasoline, then soap and water.

Then Brandon Wiley, third-generation monument man, stepped back to look at the name "Thomas J. Dudley," on a spot near the Operation Iraqi Freedom names of Neff, Leach, and Butler. There is no place yet for the Afghan War, Operation Enduring Freedom - Dudley is the first from York County to die in Afghanistan, site of America's longest war that still goes on.

T.J. Dudley was 29 years old when he died.

"I'll be 29 my next birthday," Brandon said. "He had a life ahead of him."

Brandon Wiley, tough and generous, said again how honored he was to engrave that name Saturday. Then he spoke for York County's people before getting in his truck and going to hug his daughter:

"I sure hope I never have to put another name up there."