NEW MADISON — Family, friends, dignitaries and current and retired Air Force personnel were on hand Monday in New Madison to honor the memory of a fallen son and comrade.
A six-mile section of County Highway 121 between Fort Jefferson and New Madison was dedicated to the memory of Air Force Master Sgt. William L. McDaniel II, who, as a Special Tactics pararescueman, was killed when the MH-47 Chinook helicopter he was in crashed in the Philippines February 22, 2002.
McDaniel, 36 at the time of his death, was the first Special Tactics pararescueman killed in action following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Chinook carrying McDaniel, another Airman and eight U.S. Soldiers crashed into the Sulu Sea off the Philippines after taking part in a counter-terrorism training exercise in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Staff Sgt. Juan Ridout, a pararescueman assigned to the 320th STS, was also killed in the accident.
Nicknamed “Bub” by his family, McDaniel was a graduate of Greenville High School, and enlisted in the Air Force prior to his graduation in 1983.
Speakers for the dedication included State Representative Keith Faber (R-Celina), who introduced the legislation honoring McDaniel, and Col. Michael E. Martin, the commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Okaloosa County, Florida.
“When the nation needs men and women to step forward, to move to the sound of gunfire, to take the fight to the enemy, keep the enemy away from our shores, Bill McDaniel was there,” said Col. Martin. “He didn’t waver. He moved forward.”
“Our solemn commitment, as Bill and Sheila [McDaniel’s parents] know, is we don’t forget,” he added. “We’re always here for the family in any way, shape or form. That’s what the Air Force is about.”
“It is my hope we don’t need any such ceremonies in the future,” said Rep. Faber. “I asked the good Lord, that in his wisdom, that he could make it possible that no more such ceremonies would be necessary.”
“No greater sacrifice exists than one who is willing to lay down his life in the service of others,” he said. “Master Sgt. William McDaniel understood that, when he put on the uniform, raised his hand and swore the oath.”
Col. Jeff Staha was in command of the unit on the day McDaniel perished. He called McDaniel “the ultimate, quiet professional, a completely dedicated family man, Christian, and he lived his life like that every day.”
“One of the most important things to us is that we never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he added. “For a state and a community to honor Bill McDaniel the way that they have with the sign, that anybody that passes through here sees, this highway is dedicated to someone who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Senior Master Sgt. Brad Greisen was with McDaniel and had exited the helicopter right before the tragic crash.
“This is a long time in the coming to see it come to fruition. It’s well deserved,” he said.
After the playing of the National Anthem, two Air Force F-16 fighter jets conducted a flyover of the ceremony at 1,000 feet. An invocation was led by Air Force Chaplain Mike Hendrick.
Sheila McDaniel spoke briefly to those gathered following the unveiling of the road marker.
“I want to thank all of you, each and every one of you, that had a part in this — a very heartfelt thank you. It’s been a long time coming,” she said.
When asked what she would like people to remember about her son as they travel this stretch of 121, McDaniel said, “Just to remember him. Once you’ve stopped talking about [people], that’s when they’re forgotten. And I’ll never quit talking about him.”
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