MAY 21, 2015
Memorial Day isn’t about cook outs, boating or a day off work for military families. Rather, the holiday serves as a reminder and a chance to memorialize and honor those loved ones who chose to defend our freedom and ended up sacrificing their lives while serving our country. For long-time Richard Childress Racing employee Rickey Pierce and his daughter Millie, it’s a reminder of March 13, 2013 and the beginning of a lifetime of remembrance.
During this year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, all 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will honor a fallen soldier. The name on Paul Menard’s windshield will be replaced with “SPC Proctor” to honor U.S. Army Specialist Tyler Proctor.
“I am quite surprised they’re doing this,” Millie said. “I was very happy when dad called me and told me Tyler’s name was going to be on the car. Tyler would be ecstatic and proud to know his name was up there.” Millie will be at the event along with her father and Proctor’s mother and step father.
David Proctor, known as Tyler by family and friends, pursued Millie when they met at a convention in Greensboro, N.C.
“I met Tyler 11 years ago,” she recalled. “We were together for six years before getting married in 2010. We met in Greensboro through some mutual friends. We met in passing then he actually moved to Greensboro and became a roommate of one of the friends I went to the convention with. I really got to know him since I spent a lot of time over in Greensboro. He pursued me, which is funny because we have about a 10-year age gap. He was so certain about us being together and him taking care of me.”
They were married for six months when Proctor joined the military. “He decided it was his turn to take care of the family,” said Millie. Proctor graduated from the University of North Carolina – Greensboro with a degree in Psychology but decided the U.S. Army was where he wanted to go.
“He signed up in February 2011, which is delayed entry and he went to Basic Training in August. He was actually active duty for 18 months once he got through training. He went to basic in Fort Benning, Georgia, and once he finished we were stationed in Fort Stewart. It’s not far from home, so I was able to visit when needed.”
Home for Millie is Welcome, N.C. where her father Rickey Pierce has worked as the groundskeeper at RCR for nine years. A job that sounds simple to some, but there are many days you’ll find him at the shop before and after most employees.
“I take care of all the maintenance outside the buildings and the banquet hall inside,” Pierce said. “I like to say that I’ll do anything no one else wants to do. I’ve always been a big Dale Earnhardt fan so it means a lot to work here. Millie and I used to watch the races every Sunday afternoon.”
One of Pierce’s favorite memories of Proctor was the day he asked permission to marry Millie. “Even though there was an age gap, he came to me and asked if he could marry Millie. That meant a lot,” Pierce remembered.
“Tyler was pretty quiet, kind of shy for the most part,” said Mille. “Once he got through Basic Training he was completely different. He was a smaller guy but came out of training with more confidence and was more outgoing. He told me that he was going to work and I could go to school and do what I needed. He was very proud of himself after training, which was nice. I had never seen him that way. He was never egotistical but knew he could do things with confidence. He came out of training in infantry and when that happens, you don’t have a choice but to toughen up. And, he did.”
While in Afghanistan, Proctor served as a Bradley dismount. This meant he would ride onthe back of the Bradley fighting vehicle as the gunner and dismount when they reached a territory to make sure the area was clear. “He eventually got his Bradley vehicle driver’s license and drove from where they were stationed to Kandahar, Afghanistan and back. That was terrifying for me,” Millie said.
Proctor was stationed in Afghanistan for six months before his family received the call that all military families dread.
“All the wives just had a celebratory dinner since we were at the halfway point of their deployment,” recalled Millie. “We got a call on Saturday that he was injured, then midday on Sunday they told us he was being sent to a hospital in Germany. My mom and I immediately flew to Germany to see him. Once we were there, we found out it was an 800-pound gate that had fallen on Tyler. It had been knocked over by the gusts from a Chinook helicopter. It was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that happened.”
Once Proctor was stable enough to fly back to the U.S., they took Millie and her mother with him on the medical transport from Germany, “It was the plane they flew soldiers overseas on. It was a rough flight but we were happy to be with him while we flew to Washington.”
To make difficult times worse, Pierce’s father passed away while Millie and her mother were traveling overseas. For the Pierce family this meant having two military funerals within two weeks.
“Dad’s funeral was on Friday and we left for Bethesda, Maryland on Sunday with all of our family. Tyler passed away Wednesday morning on March 13, 2013,” said Pierce.
The thought of Memorial Day will always be a hard one for the family. “Memorial Day is really hard. The anniversary of his death and Veterans Day is tough, too. It’ll be nice to celebrate him this year instead of just missing him,” Millie said.
Help us celebrate Proctor’s life, and all the other fallen heroes being recognized by 42 other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, by watching the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on FOX.