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Angie Smith, right, widow of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, and Sgt. Demonte Chieeley listen as Taps is played Wednesday, December 9, 2015, at the Lee Highway memorial

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Marines, widows lay wreaths at July 16 memorial

The soft sound of taps blended with the rush of traffic along Lee Highway on Wednesday, as Marines and widows of the men who died on July 16 gathered to lay wreaths at a memorial.

Under a gray sky that threatened rain, 1st Sgt. Darryl Rush shouted the names and ranks of the five fallen men: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith.

With each name, a Marine or widow added a wreath to the memorial, which stands across from the military recruiting center on Lee Highway, where a 24-year-old gunman began his attack on two Chattanooga military facilities on July 16.

The shooter injured one Marine at the recruiting center before driving to the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway, where he killed four Marines and mortally wounded Smith.

The five wreaths placed at the memorial were some of about 80,000 wreaths packed into a caravan of tractor-trailers headed to veterans' cemeteries across the Southeast.

The wreaths, donated by Wal-Mart, will be placed on veterans' gravestones by volunteers from Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that aims to put a wreath on every veterans' grave each year for Christmas.

Last year, the organization placed 700,000 wreaths at 1,000 different locations within the United States and internationally, according to the organization.

"That they're willing to come down here and do that for us is meaningful in and of itself," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Estep. He was inside the reserve center during the attack, and participated in Wednesday's ceremony.

The caravan of wreath-toting tractor-trailers stopped only briefly in Chattanooga, and then continued on to Alabama and Mississippi.

"We just want to remember those who have fallen and those who were shot and killed in that tragic incident in July," said Allen Castle, a volunteer with Wreaths Across America.

Lorri Wyatt and Angie Smith, who both lost their husbands in the July 16 attack, placed two of the five wreaths during the short, solemn ceremony.

The Marines slowly lifted their arms from their hips to their foreheads — a salute.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or at sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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