On Thursday morning, Cool Branch Baptist Church in Blair was filled with members of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, as well as local and state officials, as the memory of Ralph Waldo “Mac” McCracken was honored with the dedication of a portion of Highway 215.
After completing research for the creation of a monument for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame, members of the SCHP discovered that McCracken was the first SCHP officer to be killed in the line of duty.
According to newspaper accounts of the time, McCracken was instantly killed on Oct. 12, 1931 — at age 28 — when his issued motorcycle crashed into a mail carrier’s automobile parked on the wrong side of the road on Route 215 about eight miles from Carlisle. Authorities at the time ruled that the crash was unavoidable for McCracken. He was on the way to meet 12 other patrolmen in Columbia who were going to Yorktown, Va. for the Yorktown Sesquicentennial Celebration.
“He was a hero who died going to honor other heroes,” said SCHP Lance Cpl. Billy Elder.
Elder is the SCHP Troop 4 community relations officer, and he spearheaded the research which led to Thursday’s program. Elder spoke during the program, quoting Joshua 4:5, in which a monument is placed:
“And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel.”
Senator Creighton Coleman read the official South Carolina House Resolution, with the Senate concurring, requesting that the DOT name the portion of Highway 215 in Fairfield County from its intersection with the Fairfield/Chester County line to its intersection with Cool Branch Rd. “SCHP Patrolman Ralph W. McCracken Memorial Highway.”
McCracken’s great-granddaughter, Nancy Brandt, traveled from her home in Florida to attend the program. Brandt mentioned that her husband has been in law enforcement for 34 years, and she discussed the deserved recognition of her grandfather, 80 years after his death.
“I am happy to have him on that monument,” Brandt said, adding that the highway dedication was more than she could have imagined. “I just wanted some recognition for him, but (Elder) ran with it.”
SCHP Commander Col. Mike Oliver thanked the DOT for a speedy process, pointing out that such dedications usually take months of planning.
“These occasions are always a mixture of sadness and celebration,” Oliver said. “None of us standing here today knew Patrolman McCracken. We didn’t know he was the first to make the ultimate sacrifice. This highway sign will serve as a tangible reminder.”
Sarah Nuckles — DOT Commissioner, 5th Congressional District — acknowledged Senator Ralph Norman for assisting with getting the resolution through the senate quickly. She also spoke regarding all highway patrolmen.
“Nothing is more important than the work these ladies and gentlemen do,” Nuckles said. “They are absolutely critical to our lives. I hope when a child riding down the road sees signs dedicated to highway patrolmen, they ask their mom or dad, ‘What does that mean?’”
Leroy Smith, director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, pointed out that McCracken had been inducted into the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
“It is one way to say we have not — and will not — forget,” Smith said.
Smith then directed comments toward the highway dedication.
“This sign is a reminder of the sacrifice of public service,” Smith said, explaining that he could not put the many sacrifices into words. “Every time you put on your uniforms you risk your lives. It takes courage, strength and quality of character. Let’s hold on to days like today in our hearts, and let’s remember why.”