Andrew Dys

Widow of Fort Mill Marine killed in Afghanistan: ‘Live life and honor them’

The Dudley family before Marine T.J. left for his last deployment before he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011. Wife Mary holds baby Jenna, Carter in front, Taylor, right.
The Dudley family before Marine T.J. left for his last deployment before he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011. Wife Mary holds baby Jenna, Carter in front, Taylor, right. Contributed photo

There will be barbecues for Memorial Day this weekend, said Mary Dudley. Families will gather, and friends. The start of summer. Cold beers will be raised and toasts made.

Her husband died so the rest of us might smile.

“The best thing we all can do is honor those people and live our lives knowing that they gave their lives for the rest of us,” Dudley said. “That’s what Memorial Day is, or should be. People living life – and remembering those who died for it. Live life and honor them.”

U.S. Marine T.J. Dudley, from Fort Mill, on his sixth deployment to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died in July 2011. He was 29 years old, and he left Mary a widow and Taylor and Carter and Jenna without a father.

This holiday is all about T.J. Dudley. And every other service member from wars as far back as wars go back, who died for freedom.

Not freedom as TV network hacks and politicians call it.

Freedom as real people live it.

In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, six area military people died in action: Paul Neff, Kenneth James Butler, Pat Leach and Dudley from York County, and Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker from Chester County.

Memorial Day weekend is the one time of the year when those who died are those who are honored. No politician should ever give a speech. No candidate should ever try for a vote.

This is a time when the people who died in wars get their due.

A decade ago in 2006 – somehow it has been 10 years – Army medic Logan Tinsley from Chester was killed in Iraq. Tinsley had saved the lives of other people in combat. Tinsley had been in combat for days before then, even combat so close that he had to kill an insurgent to save his fellow soldiers.

Logan Tinsley then was killed at 21.

His brother Ryan then went to fight that war, too, afterward, although Ryan did not have to go once his brother died. Ryan served anyway and came home, and Ryan and his father – his mother died of a broken heart – will attend that Chester ceremony Monday and see Logan Tinsley’s name etched on the black marble.

Then families will go on to the rest of Memorial Day weekend. For the Dudley family, who live near Jacksonville, N.C., at the coast near where T.J. was based before he died, Memorial Day weekend has become a ritual of attending the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, called TAPS for short. Thousands of people from hundreds of families gather each Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C., for activities for those families who lost a loved one in the wars.

Yet the lives that these kids of war live is what Mary Dudley says is important: The Dudley family. Taylor, the oldest, is now 18 and will graduate from high school in June and head off to college. She organized a 5K run in T.J.’s honor as a senior project. Many of the Marines from T.J.’s former unit ran in it.

Memories of real men and women killed in combat, real heroes and not movie heroes, are never forgotten by the brothers and sisters at arms who somehow make it back alive.

The younger kids, Carter, 10, and Jenna, 6, are active in sports, school, so much more. T.J. Dudley was active in all his kids’ activities when he was not in deserts and mountains fighting wars. Before that, growing up and as a teen in Fort Mill, T.J. Dudley was on the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department and a member of Fort Mill High Junior ROTC and more.

His whole life was service. Giving. He gave to the rest of us and he died for it.

The day before T.J Dudley shipped out on his last tour in December 2010, he spent building a snowman with his kids.

Now, five years after he died, the kids must go on and live life, Mary Dudley said. On Memorial Day weekend, she offers this advice to all of us.

“Give your wife, your husband, an extra kiss,” Mary Dudley said. “Go outside with your kids, play with them – spend time with them. Love your family and enjoy each other. Laugh. A lot. Laugh every chance you get.”

And remember, she said, those who died fighting these wars. Remember guys such as T.J. Dudley.

Raise a glass to them this weekend.

Honoring the fallen

Pat Leach, Paul Neff, Kenneth James Butler and T.J. Dudley, all of York County, died in the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chester County natives Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker died in those wars.