A crowd filled the Irondale Fire Department during the 11th hour Tuesday to pay tribute to a man who gave his life for his country.
A one-mile section of Route U in Irondale between Route M and Province Road was named for Sergeant Major Patrick R. Hurley who was killed in 1991 during a special operations mission in southwest Asia. Where his section of highway ends, another newly-dedicated section for aviation pioneer Thomas Benoist begins.
His sister, Gwen Cramp, thanked the many people who made the dedication possible and presented a flag for the fallen to city officials in remembrance of all the city’s fallen.
She indicated a group of Irondale residents were instrumental in making the road dedication happen. State Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, introduced the bill to make the naming possible.
Because of the colder, rainy weather the dedication was moved indoors to the Irondale Fire Department. The signs should go up later this week.
More than 50 people attended the dedication. Many were veterans, themselves.
During the dedication, former Ranger Mike Williams Jr. talked about the hero he never got the chance to meet. He said it was an honor to be there to read the Ranger Creed.
He said the first time he heard Hurley’s name was when he went to Hurley’s memorial at the courthouse in 1991. The next time he heard the name Hurley was when he was attending Ranger school and saw that Hurley Hill there had been named for this local legend.
Williams was able to meet and speak with people who served with Hurley.
“He was who I wanted to be …” Williams said. He said Hurley embodied the Ranger Creed.
In 1999, Cramp, a friend of Williams’ family, sent Williams a Ranger coin Hurley had given her. He proudly showed it off to his battalion commander.
Hurley was raised on Route U in Irondale. He graduated from Leadwood High School in 1972 and joined the U.S. Army that year. He was one of the first members selected for the classified Army Special Operations Unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This unit was known as Delta Force.
He fought with distinction in Grenada, Panama, and the Iranian Hostage Mission. In Panama he led a sniper team to Carcel Modelo prison where they safely evacuated an American hostage.
Serving as a troop sergeant major while participating in direct combat actions against a hostile force during operation Desert Storm in southwest Asia, Hurley’s team successfully conducted high value target interdiction and mobile reconnaissance behind enemy lines in an area void of vegetation with little or no close air support.
On the night of Feb. 21, 1991, Hurley received injuries that required immediate extraction from the field. Following extraction, the UH-60 Blackhawk medivac helicopter crashed in a sand storm, killing all aboard.
In addition to his military awards, Hurley was also posthumously awarded a BS degree from Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his medals, dog tags and Green Beret are on display in the lobby of the Horner Administration Building.
He was recently inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame. Other honors include the naming of Hurley Lake at Fort Bragg. Hurley Hill at Fort Benning is named for him. A three-block section of South Oak in front of Irondale City Hall was named in his honor a year ago.
Cramp said per brother’s wishes, he was buried in Arlington Cemetery as close to Robert Kennedy as was possible.
Back in Irondale on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Porter led the ceremony. Pastor Chris Myers of First Baptist Church of Irondale opened and closed the ceremony with prayers. The West County High School band performed and the Patriot Guard presented the American flags.
West County Superintendent Stacy Stevens attended the ceremony. He said he didn’t know Hurley personally but Hurley graduated with his uncle. He thanked Hurley for the ultimate sacrifice, saying that the soldier brought the community great pride.
Retired teacher and neighbor Ann Hampton also spoke of the “wonderful boy” she knew.