“We couldn't protect them. We couldn't save them, but we can honor them by making sure that everything placed out here is taken care of, in the place where it needs to be.”
Monday's rain didn't stop the Daughters of the American Revolution from collecting flags and flowers planted at a makeshift memorial for servicemen killed in Chattanooga on July 16.
The women want the five fallen servicemen and the outpouring of public support for them to be remembered.
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"I get emotional because it's a sacred place," said Gertie Jarnigan Day of Harriman, Tenn.
Day stood crying in the rain near the memorial on Lee Highway. It marked the first of two military recruiting sites in Chattanooga where 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked Marine and Navy personnel.
The shootings drew national attention to Chattanooga, with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter among a host of politicians who attended a citywide memorial service on Saturday to honor the men.
Abdulazeez, of Hixson, shot five men at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway. Marines Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist and Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells died July 16. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith died from injuries sustained in the shooting two days later.
"We couldn't protect them. We couldn't save them, but we can honor them by making sure that everything placed out here is taken care of, in the place where it needs to be," Hixson resident Nancy Henderson said while clearing the makeshift memorial.
The Daughters of the American Revolution plans to distribute the Bibles and patriotic paraphernalia, including flags, pinwheels and signs, to area veterans. Members also will distribute flags in schools, along with information on how to care for them.
Christine Keefe found three prisoner of war medals in plastic wrapping underneath a rain-soaked Bible at the memorial.
No one told people to bring flags, toys and patriotic signs to the sites of the shootings. It was a "tribal" reaction, local radio talk show host Jeff Styles said. He hosted a memorial service on Sunday presenting a permanent memorial at the site to the public.
The permanent memorial, a lighted concrete and granite fixture, tells the story of the shootings on July 16 and names the five slain servicemen. Organizers estimate the memorial cost about $100,000 in donated materials and labor.
"We're here to show our appreciation for these men," Henderson said. "They were here doing their job."
A short walk from the memorial, the women and some men laid wet flags flat to dry in an empty store.
Damaged flags will be disposed of with honor in a suitable ceremony, they said.
The Daughters of the American Revolution has five chapters in the Chattanooga area. They are Chickamauga, Moccasin Bend, Nancy Ward, Chief John Ross and Judge David Campbell. Dozens of members from the chapters participated in clearing the memorial.
A handful of men from the Sons of the American Revolution also helped.
Joyce Duke wants the public to understand that the Daughters of the American Revolution is a service community that has been supporting veteran organizations and working in schools for years.
"It's not just little old ladies going to lunch," Duke said. "This is what we do."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.