On July 16, 2015, one person, one senseless act, changed our lives. It sent shock waves worldwide. It was an attack on our military institutions. We lost five men ranging in age from their 20s to 40s, from all over the nation, all committed to a life of service. They all ended up in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Some had been in the city for a short time, others had long made it their home. They all reported to their workplace that Thursday morning, doing routine chores. It was just another day, until a deranged man showed up, on a mission to kill.
We now know his mission was not completed. He had enough artillery and ammunition to last for days. We shudder to think of the additional carnage and heartbreak he would have caused, if not for the bravery of our police officers.
One year later, the focus is where it should be, on the lives and families of our five fallen servicemen. Four were members of the U.S. Marine Corps: Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Lance Corporal Squire “Skip” Wells, and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt. One was in the U.S. Navy: Logistics Specialist Second Class Randall Smith. They’ve recently been memorialized on a beautiful set of murals at 1715 McCallie Avenue in Chattanooga by artist Kevin Bate. It is an impressive sight.
We also remember the heroes who saved a lot of lives that day. Several police officers, who are so often maligned by a surprisingly large segment of Americans, contained the killing spree to one area. Had the shooter escaped, what was next on his list?
The still-active investigation, stretching worldwide, still seeks to determine why a young man who graduated from Red Bank High and UTC, went on a killing spree. Questions remain on whether he left any associates behind. We still wonder how he managed to acquire, accumulate and transport so much firepower. It is reasonable to assume that this would be hard to accomplish without some help.
In some ways, our area has recovered. We have watched with sympathy and bewilderment as similar terrorist attacks have taken place, both near and far. But I can assure you, that as we near this anniversary, five families are mourning.
Like us, they wake up each morning, hoping it was just a bad dream. But their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers are not coming home. They exist only in murals, monuments and memories. Countless songs, stories and tributes have been written, but no one can rewrite the sad history of July 16.
David Wyatt’s widow Lorri was reluctant to do or say anything in public for almost five months. Who could she trust? Was her family safe? As these questions and others haunted her each day, she looked for something, anything to begin the healing process. As the holidays neared, she found her calling: Toys for Tots. David had chaired the annual collection drive, and she worked to ensure its success to honor his memory.
Since then, she’s co-written “Chattanooga Rain,” part of the Operation Song program spearheaded by Nashville’s top songwriters to aid veterans and military families. It will be among the songs performed at a special Nightfall show at Miller Plaza on July 15. Will Lorri attend the observances this weekend to honor David and other fallen servicemen? “I’m not committing to anything just yet. I’ll have to see how I feel on that day. It’s not an anniversary I’ve been looking forward to.”
Even now, almost 365 days later, I’m touched by the number of people who thank me for being on the air that day, passing along the limited information we had at the time. Our entire viewing area was in fear, with rumors of lockdowns, additional threats and active shooters.
While I appreciate the kind words, I cannot emphasize enough that I didn’t shield a single person. I did not save a life. I didn’t dodge a single bullet. I didn’t stand out in the heat for hours on end, re-routing traffic, or securing a crime scene. I didn’t transport or treat any of the victims of this mass attack. I didn’t have to inform anyone that one of their family members had died. I did not have to enter the residence of a person who had just carried out a terrorist attack, not knowing what traps might lie ahead. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who carried out these duties. You saved our lives that day, just as you do every day. You go places the rest of us won’t go: quite frankly, places we are afraid to go. I will never take you for granted.
(David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. His book, “Chattanooga Radio and Television” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37405 or at email@example.com)