City and Hamilton County officials broke ground Thursday on the memorial designed to honor the five service members killed in the July 16, 2015, Chattanooga terrorist attack on two local military sites.
The memorial, "Wreath of Honor," will stand in a section of the Tennessee Riverpark near the Hubert Fry Center and a stone's throw away from the U.S. Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center that was attacked three years ago. Killed in the attack were Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist; Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt and Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells, all Marines, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall J. Smith.
Designed by Shane Allbritton & Norman Lee of RE:site Studio, the memorial won a $750,000 commission put together by the city and county with help from the private sector. The plan is to have the memorial finished for a dedication ceremony in July 2019.
"This memorial to the Fallen Five has been in the planning process for some time now," said Katelyn Kirnie, director of public art for the city of Chattanooga. "I think this memorial will be a very sacred place."
Mayor Andy Berke said it would be the site for community members to pay their respects and honor the men who were killed, enshrining their lives and the sacrifices they made for others.
"It's a place for all of us think about them and think about what it means to be Americans," he said. "It's humbling to see something like this happen in our city."
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger agreed, adding he is still appreciative of how quickly first responders leaped into action and got to the scenes.
"What is this memorial going to mean to us as a community?" he asked. "What you hear time and time again from people in Hamilton County is they want to continue paying their respects. To honor the ones who not only have passed, but those who are still serving."
"We can never forget, and here in Hamilton County and in Chattanooga, we will never forget July 16, 2015."
Erlanger Health System handled the private-sector fundraising for the memorial and Gregg Gentry, chief of staff to Erlanger's president and CEO, said the designers "did an exceptional job." He said he hoped it would honor both the victims and the community they called home.
"We came together, we united and we responded," he said. "These Fallen Five had the courage to serve. They had the courage to step up and put themselves in harm's way. What greater courage could an individual have?"
Joining public officials at the event was Norman Lee, who said he designed the memorial after visiting and speaking with several of the victims' families.
"We had a powerful site visit," he said. "The notion of marking sacred ground was important to us."
The memorial will be composed of a large, metal wreath suspended between five pillars representing the Fallen Five. Words and phrases that became important to the community in the aftermath of the shootings, such as "Noogastrong" and "Home of the free because of the brave," will be inscribed on the wreath itself.
"We wanted that to be very much a part of the experience," he said. "That level of specificity and narrative was important for us to convey."
Lee said the memorial concept was inspired by the military tradition of wreath laying, a gesture that recognizes honor and sacrifice. It also symbolizes eternity and memory, and Lee said his experiences with the victims' families were essential to his planning.
"We want to capture whatever their families want to include," he said.
The wreath ultimately will include 75 phrases, and the public is asked to offer suggestions online at publicartchattanooga.com/fallenfivememorial/. The website also has a link for those interested to make a donation to the project and another link to the designers' website.