CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- Four small boxes lay closely together, each of them encasing a metal heart emblazoned with the silhouette of President George Washington against a purple background at the end of a strip of purple ribbon adorned with two white stripes down each side. The boxes, one by one, were picked up and presented to the families of the Marines recognized for their commitment to the Corps and for the sacrifice they gave while fighting for each other and their country.
Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist and Lance Cpl. Squire Wells, posthumously received the Purple Heart Medal in a ceremony on April 20, 2016, for their life-saving actions during an attack by a gunman at the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Chattanooga on July 16, 2015.
Earlier this year, Purple Heart medals were presented to the family of Petty Officer Randall Smith, the Sailor who died of wounds received that day, and Sgt. Demonte Cheeley, the Marine recruiter, also injured at a recruiting office across town earlier in the attack.
The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to members of the armed forces who have been wounded or killed in action.
An investigation conducted by the FBI and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service following the attack, determined the Chattanooga shooter had been inspired by a foreign terrorist group, making the Marines eligible to receive the decoration.
In light of that finding, and nearly a year after the attack, the families of the four Marines gathered in Chattanooga to accept the medals on the Marines’ behalf.
Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian, Commander, Marine Forces Reserve, presided over the ceremony, expressing his condolences for the loss of the Marines.
“Our brothers were taken from us; your sons, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers were taken from us,” said McMillian. “But what cannot, and will not ever be taken from us, is the incredible impressions they made on each and every one of us.”
McMillian also spoke of the heroism of all those involved and the support offered by the community of Chattanooga.
“When the bullets started to fly they sprang into action,” he said. ”They were looking out for their fellow Marines and the civilians nearby. They went into harm’s way to ensure the safety of others."
“The Marines and Sailors of 14th Marines also responded, they did precisely what our fallen warriors wanted them to do- the Marines grieved, then continued to march.”
Maj. Christopher Cotton, inspector-instructor, Battery M, 3rd Battalion,
14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, also spoke during the ceremony about the unique personalities of each of the fallen and how their families helped to shape them into the Marines that took action to save their brothers.
“I can never thank them or you for what they have done,” Cotton told the families. “But I am eternally grateful because your sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers saved lives that day.”