The makeshift memorial to the city's five fallen servicemen — the collection of flowers, crosses, mementos and the thousands and thousands of American flags that sprouted in front of the military recruiting center on Lee Highway after the July 16 shooting — couldn't last.
But Sunday saw the dedication of a permanent marker to honor the dead and an outpouring of public support for them, their families and their mission.
Hundreds of people sat or stood under a sweltering sun in the parking lot near the Armed Forces Career Center and National Guard recruiting office for the memorial service that lasted nearly two hours. The crowd included parents of the slain military men and elected officials.
"It's too important, we've got to support our military, support America," Carmen Paynter said while waiting for the program to start. She has one son who has been to Afghanistan and one "expecting to go," she said.
The memorial includes a flagpole, a bench and three concrete monuments framing granite plaques telling the story of the July 16 attack that began at the Lee Highway center and ended at the U.S. Navy and Marine Operational Support Center on Amnicola Highway.
One plaque includes the names of the fallen servicemen: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith.
The flag that was raised Sunday flew over the U.S. Capitol on July 30, said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who spoke during the event.
It was the second event of the weekend honoring the fallen. On Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and others spoke at a memorial service in McKenzie Arena.
Sunday's dedication was a more down-home event.
Award-winning artist Willie Kitchens and country musician Cody McCarver, formerly of Confederate Railroad, drew standing ovations after Kitchens sang "People Get Ready" and McCarver sang "I'm America."
Local retired Army Gen. B.B. Bell, police Chief Fred Fletcher and retired Marine Col. Wayne A. Rich Jr. were among several speakers during the event. Brainerd Baptist Church Senior Pastor Robby Gallaty prayed before and after the observance.
Local talk radio host Jeff Styles was the moderator, telling the story of the shooting at the end of the service.
"On July 16, 2015, at 10:45 a.m., a vicious attack on local military recruiting stations, a heartbreaking tally after a day of senseless violence. Five dead. More wounded in a city that believes, as most do, that it will never happen here," Styles said. "Shocking the nation, reverberating around the globe, the first shots were fired where you currently stand at 6219 Lee Highway."
Within days of the shooting, as people streamed through to pay respects, pray, plant flags or place flowers, local residents formed the Lee Highway Memorial Committee and made plans for a permanent memorial.
Businesswoman Rebecca Cruz-Styles contacted Don Lepard, CEO of Global Green Lighting, who gave lights for the memorial.
The project represents more than $100,000 in materials and labor, Lepard said. Nobody charged a dime. Some businesses were so eager to help, they fought over contributing, he said.
Within two weeks the group had a concrete memorial complete with the granite slab bearing the names of the dead and a bench for people to sit and reflect.
This is the people's memorial, Styles said.
Gail McKell of East Chattanooga agreed.
"The people's memorial represents their heartfelt support. No politics, it's just people," she said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.