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Fallen Chattanooga Marines include recent grad, Iraq and Afghanistan vets

Chattanooga shooting victims, left to right, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Lance Cpl. Skip Wells.

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2015

It’s the knock at the door parents worry about when their children are at war, but one they never expect when they’re not deployed.

Across the country in the wake of the shootings targeting American troops in Chattanooga, Tenn., families of the victims received the unwelcome visitors whose news is clear from their crisp uniforms and grim expressions before they even speak. 

Four Marines were killed in Thursday’s shooting, and a sailor died of his wounds Saturday, the Navy said.

The mother of Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, was watching news coverage of the shooting when she got the knock, according to a family spokesman. Wells, 21, a Georgia native, attended Georgia Southern University before joining the Marine Reserves and had recently graduated boot camp.

“Every service parent, especially moms, dreads opening the front door and seeing people in uniform,” Andy Kingery, a friend who is acting as a family spokesman, told The Associated Press.

The last words Wells texted to his girlfriend, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, were: “ACTIVE SHOOTER.”

“My son died doing what he loved for the love of his country and his family,” CNN quoted his mother, Cathy Wells as saying.

At a makeshift memorial of empty boots, a black Marine Corps T-shirt and camouflage pants set up at Sprayberry High School, Jerry Jameson, an older Marine, saluted slowly, the Journal-Constitution reported.

“As Marines, we are all a band of brothers and sisters,” he told the paper. “What happened to them shouldn’t have happened.”

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40, made it through two deployments in Iraq, receiving two Purple Hearts. The Massachusetts native had spent 18 years in the Marines.  His hometown mayor said he “dedicated his life in brave service.”

“How hard would it be for anybody to lose a child?” Hampden Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth said outside Sullivan’s Massachusetts family home. “It doesn’t get much harder than that.”

Lance Cpl. Michael Bizzoco, of Beaufort, S.C., who was deployed with Sullivan in Iraq in 2004, told the Boston Herald they fought to keep such attacks from hitting at home.

“After what we all lived through together, to see this happen on American soil, it shouldn’t happen,” Bizzoco told the paper. “He was the kind of guy who — in the middle of all the countless firefights that we were in over there — he was always making sure that we were all OK and even in the middle of the worst of it he was doing it with a smile on his face.”

Sgt. Carson Holmquist, 27, an automotive technician, had served more than six years in the Marines including two deployments as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, as the war in Afghanistan was called until the end of 2014.

The news of his death was delivered to his father, Tom Holmquist, a machinist, by two Marines who came to the shop floor of the plant in Grantsburg, Wis., where he worked, Grantsburg Village President Glenn Rolloff, who works at the plant, told the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

“It was a hard day at work today. A deep sadness fell over the plant,” Rolloff told the paper.

Holmquist is survived by his wife, Jasmine, and his 2-year-old son, Wyatt, the Tribute reported.

“It’s a very tough day in Grantsburg,” said Josh Watt, one of Holmquist’s football coaches and now principal of Grantsburg High School.

“They were really excited that, after two tours in Afghanistan, he was finally coming home, and he was stateside, and he was stationed at a recruiter’s,” Rolloff told the Tribune. “How much safer can you be?”

Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 37, of Burke County, N.C., served in the Marines for 11 years and was a veteran of three deployments, including two to Iraq. The Tennessean reported that Wyatt was married with two children.

“He was truly a dedicated husband and father,” his aunt, Robin Wyatt said, according to The Charlotte Observer. “He was a man that had a great exuberance and ability to enjoy life.”

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith of Ohio, was wounded in the attack. While the Navy did not release the name of the sailor who died early Saturday, his step-grandmother, Darlene Proxmire told CBS News Smith had died. 

“It’s terrible. You think ‘oh that’s not going to happen to your family,’ but by gum it can. It can happen anywhere,” NBC affiliate WCMH quoted her as saying after Thursday’s shooting. 

Smith grew up in the small town of Paulding on the Indiana border, WCMH reported. A baseball player, he went to Defiance College on a baseball scholarship, but when he was injured and could no longer play, he joined the Navy, WCMH reported. 

“He loved the Navy. He loved it in there,” the station quoted Proxmire as saying.

Chattanooga Police officer Sgt. Dennis Pedigo Jr. was also wounded in the shooting and is in stable condition. He could be released from the hospital this weekend, according to news reports.

While the families of the fallen have been reluctant to speak so soon after the shootings, which happened Thursday at a combined Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center, there were outpourings of grief on social media.

A posting on Wells’ Facebook page said, “Skip Wells, it was one of the pleasures of my life to have had the chance to know you … I will forever have a void in my life that can never be filled.”

Thomas Sullivan’s brother changed the fallen Marine’s Facebook profile picture to a split shot of smiling Thomas in uniform and a black ribbon over the Marines Corps logo. Within the ribbon are the words “in remembrance,” and below it, “R.I.P. Tommy.” A giant U.S. flag and another representing the Marine Corps hung outside a Springfield restaurant in his honor.

The Marines’ remains were being taken to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., to the military mortuary center. Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement Friday saying that the focus would remain on supporting the families of the fallen Marines.

“Please keep our fallen Marines in Tennessee and their families in your thoughts and prayers.”

Vice President Joe Biden praised the fallen Marines as part of “probably the most incredible generation that his country has seen,” according to the AP.

“Their families have already given a lot to the country, and now this.”

The Marines vowed to keep their reserve centers open in the wake of the shooting.

“The incident has not changed the Marine Corps’ resolve to maintain a presence in our American communities,” a Marine Corp statement said.

druzin.heath@stripes.com
Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

 

Randall Smith, one of the victims of the July 16, 2015 Chattanooga shootings.
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