Saturday was a day for pride and sadness for residents of Paulding County, Ohio.
On Saturday morning, a stretch of U.S. 127 just outside Paulding was renamed U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith Memorial Highway – in honor of a native son who died at the hands of a terrorist in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a year ago this month.
County Commissioner Mark Holtsberry on Monday said the 10-minute ceremony was bittersweet. Smith’s was a life ended too soon, but the 26-year-old also showed uncommon valor.
"He more or less threw himself in the line of fire to get others out of there," Holtsberry said.
Smith was working at a U.S. Navy Reserve center on July 16, 2015, when Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, carrying a handgun and a semiautomatic rifle, opened fire after driving through a security checkpoint.
Four Marines were killed. Another Marine, a police officer and Smith were wounded. Smith died at a hospital two days later. Police killed the gunman.
In December, after an investigation, the FBI Director James Comey said Abdulazeez was motivated by "foreign terrorist organization propaganda."
Smith, who has been awarded a Purple Heart for his actions, left behind a wife and three young daughters, Lyla, Eila and Kyla. His widow, Angie (Thomas) Smith, grew up in the Leo-Cedarville area; Smith was raised by his late grandparents, Hiram and Catherin Smith, in Paulding.
He was a graduate of Paulding High School, where a memorial service in August was packed with more than 1,000 people.
Smith is also survived by his father, Tracy Smith; mother, Paula Proxmire and sister, Shawna Smith.
Holtsberry said state Rep. Tony Burkley, R-82nd, was instrumental in shepherding the bill for the renaming. During the dedication, attended by members of local veterans’ organizations, family members were given a miniature replica of the sign on the highway stretch, which goes from just outside Paulding to the intersection with Ohio 111 south of Cecil.
"Travel this highway with the thought of your duty, honor and country," Holtsberry said during the dedication. "We have the opportunity to honor one of our own, but there is a great loss for his family and those he loved," he said.