While strangers from across greater Chattanooga converged, making new friends, four veterans also having just met, joined in a somber salute to the five fallen service members of a tragedy. Four Marines and one Navy petty officer were all fatally injured by the domestic attack Thursday, July 16,, in southeast Tenn., an attack considered to be the first time U.S. military servicemen have been attacked and killed in Chattanooga, Tenn., since the Civil War.
From a Facebook event post late Friday afternoon, about 4 p.m., to some 24 hours later, 120 or so people still in the wake of the tragedy, now Saturday the 18th, gathered in a Walmart parking lot, united, offering a wounded community their prayers and reflections.
Community organizer Nathan Hampton of Flintstone, Ga., stood from the back of a white pick-up with flags of our storied Republic’s past. One said “Don’t Tread on Me,” also known as an early flag of the Continental Navy, another with all the Armed Forces Seals, and yes, Old Glory, cascading gently in the warm winds.
Hampton spoke from his heart: “This group now represents a way for all of us to publically honor those taken by horrific violence.”
Prayers were offered by pastor David Hammontree of The Awakening Church (Rossville, Ga.), along with reverent solemn men, women and children under a hot sun in smoldering heat.
Only moments prior, four veterans having just met, stood by a large unfurled U.S. flag. They chose to honor the five fallen in military fashion by hand salute to those brave, heroic men.
Soon, the crowd would transition to a flag parade of cars and trucks in patriotic fervor of nearly 75 vehicles at one point. Leaving in a convoy, flags waving, the procession began. Onward, to the first scene of an unprovoked attack, one international participant, a young Israeli soldier who asked to not be identified had joined the gathering to honor the five fallen heroes, our unarmed military, attacked, killed on our home soil.
As many have done, our group also planted five flags as a statement of appreciation and respect to them. Those fallen Marines: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, of Mass., Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, of Ga., Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, of Ark., and Sgt. Carson Holmquist, of Wis., and that Saturday morning, another death, Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith of Ohio, all from Thursday’s attack, still difficult, surreal and hard to fathom.
Why did these Men die? Those men gave that hallowed sacrifice of life, standing in harms way for all of us.
Organizers publicly thank Chattanooga city police for the agile effectiveness in neutralizing the active shooter, undoubtedly saving lives by their fast and fearless action of that ill-fated day.
Our prayers continue for the wounded and hurting. We of faith ask God of Abraham for healing, especially for friends and family of our five heroes, Marines and Navy, as they all grieve for loved ones taken so unjustly, defending all of us.
Aleq Boyle, Ringgold