Highway naming

Dawn O’Kieff finishes unveiling the Tech Sgt. William O’Kieff memorial highway sign on Old Fort Parkway at a ceremony last week. Dawn O’Kieff is the veteran’s daughter. Also participating in the ceremony were State Sen. Dawn White (left) and State Rep. Mike Sparks (right).

It took 50 years for Tech Sgt. William O’Kieff to come all the way home to Murfreesboro from Vietnam.

On June 14, the segment of Murfreesboro’s Old Fort Parkway from Thompson Lane to New Salem Highway was dedicated as the Tech. Sgt. William B. O’Kieff Memorial Highway in a ceremony held at the Old Fort Park Pavilion.

State Sen. Dawn White took on the road dedication project after O’Kieff’s wife, Margaret, passed away in 2016. After research and phone calls, White’s legislative assistant, Jessica Bryant, identified a major segment of road in Murfreesboro that was available and suitable for the O’Kieff Memorial designation.

After Alice Clements sang the national anthem a capella, White presented a proclamation from the state senate honoring O’Kieff. The group then travelled on foot to Old Fort Parkway for the unveiling of the memorial road signs.

“When DNA technology became available, with O’Kieff’s remains buried in a mass grave at Arlington Cemetery, it became possible to identify him separately and bring this hero home — back from his journey, back to his family and bring them closure. It was an honor to be a part of this,” White said.

“We’re honoring a veteran, one of Murfreesboro’s own, and I am pleased that we were able to do this,” State Rep. Charlie Baum said. “I also understand that Vietnam Veterans have not always been honored in this way. There was a time when that was not the case, and I am glad that has changed.”

O’Kieff was born Oct. 26, 1932, in Murfreesboro. He delivered the local newspaper as a child and played football at Murfreesboro Central.

Following his high school graduation, O’Kieff enlisted in the Air Force. While serving in the military in 1958, he met and married Margaret Adair. The couple had two children, Alexander and Dawn.

O’Kieff’s military assignments placed him in Vietnam in 1969, and he died in an airplane crash there on Nov. 27, 1970. Unable to be separately identified at that time, O’Kieff’s remains were buried in a mass grave at Arlington National Cemetery. New technical developments allowed for identification in 2017, and O’Kieff was re-interred at Roselawn Memorial Gardens in Murfreesboro on June 17, 2017.

Dawn O’Kieff, who was 5 when her father died, said, “I am overwhelmed by the ceremony, and by where the sign is, and I am overwhelmed by what Dawn White has done. She’s taken this on and accomplished this in a short period of time.

“It’s an amazing turnout. America wants to bring their servicemen home in honor. Vietnam veterans were not honored so much, some time ago. My dad might not have received such a ceremony back in 1970, but he’s getting it now, and now he has a memorial in his memory.”

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