Chattanoogans honor Fallen Five in 2-year anniversary memorial service
By ROSANA HUGHES | Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. | Published: July 17, 2017
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Tribune News Service) — Sunday was a day of remembrance in honor of the five servicemen who were killed in the July 16 terrorist attack two years ago in Chattanooga.
The day began with a memorial service and 21-gun salute starting at 10:45 a.m. to replace the flag that flies over the Lee Highway memorial.
The service denoted the time and place when Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on the glass windows of the joint military recruitment center, injuring Marine recruiter Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley.
Abdulazeez then sped to the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center nearly seven miles away on Amnicola Highway. There, he killed four Marines — Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist and Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells — and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall J. Smith.
Chattanooga police rushed to the military center and killed Abdulazeez men after a gun battle that lasted several minutes.
Ben Miller, volunteer chaplain for the Chattanooga Police Department, was one of the first chaplains at Erlanger when the injured started coming in.
At an afternoon concert at the Tennessee Riverpark in honor of the Fallen Five, Miller remembered the fear and chaos of that day. There were so many emotions, he said, and no one immediately knew the extent of the tragedy.
"My first thought was, 'What can I do?' he said. And when word came that the gunman was dead, he thought, "Is that the only one? How many of our people have been wounded?"
Miller said he was proud of how efficiently first responders banded together that day to bring the gunman down.
Within days of the shooting, people and businesses eager to see a memorial at the Lee Highway recruitment center donated more than $100,000 in materials and labor. It was built within two weeks and dedicated on Aug. 16, 2015.
Each year, the flag is replaced on the anniversary of the shooting, said Keith Wheatley, property manager of the Lee Highway strip mall that houses the recruiting center.
"After a small service to remember those who lost their lives that day, we present the flag to someone who was involved in the building of this memorial," he said.
Larry Palmer, American Legion Post 95 commander, helped fold the old flag after it was lowered. The anniversary of the shooting reminds him of not just of the five servicemen who lost their lives, but two good friends as well.
"This is a way to keep the memory alive of two friends — Sullivan and Wyatt," he said. "I left two quarters [on the memorial] in their memory."
Palmer said he and his colleagues worked with the two Marines on a semi-weekly basis for veterans' funerals at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Former Marine Sgt. Daniel Wysong remembered he was at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jackson, N.C., on the day of the attack.
"It was a stressful day when my brothers were under attack, and I was so far away," Wysong said.
"I'm local, and it hurt that it took place here and against my brothers," he said. "I hope it reminds the community that the war against this ideology isn't over, and that we never forget what [servicemen] do."
The evening memorial concert was held at the Fry Pavilion in the Tennessee Riverpark, with opening remarks by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
"When I think of every great adjective: loving, caring, wonderful. You name it. Those five great Americans exemplified that, and our great city, which was Nooga Strong, exemplified that then and exemplifies that today," Fleischmann said, adding that all five servicemen were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
Just last month, Fleischmann was among the congressmen practicing baseball for an annual charity game when a gunman opened fire on the group, injuring four people. Fleischmann said he suffered only minor injuries to the palm of his hand and his elbow from jumping into the dugout. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was badly injured before police shot the gunman to death.
The common thread between the two incidents is the quick action of police and other first responders, Fleischmann said.
"As Americans, we need to be very thankful for our local, state and federal law enforcement who work every day to keep us safe," Fleischmann said.
Sabrina Sammons, a Chattanooga resident who moved here recently from Orlando, Fla., remembered the shooting at the Pulse nightclub there last year.
"These were tragic events with a mass loss of life," she said.
Despite the tragedy, Sammons, who had visited Chattanooga in the past, said she thinks Chattanoogans are more friendly and more caring since the 2015 attack.
"People look at you and smile as they walk by instead of keeping to themselves," she said.
Miller, the chaplain, said the concert should remind people of the tragedy while turning it into a positive by honoring the heroes whose quick response stopped the gunman's attack.
When he was in the trauma room at Erlanger as the victims arrived, he remembered being worried — about the community, his loved ones, his colleagues.
"It's stuff you take for granted," he said. "[The community] doesn't have to worry because there are first responders who protect us so we don't have to worry."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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