ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
The intersection of Battlefield Parkway and Lake Shore Drive in Fort Oglethorpe is named for Petty Officer Randall Smith. Smith was one of five servicemen killed on July 15, 2015. The memorial was photographed on June 27, 2017.

Watch video on Youtube »

Photo Gallery

Memorials mark sacrifices of service members

At the intersection of Lee Highway and Highway 153, a pole bearing an American flag stands atop a stone plinth.

Flowers and small bushes run the perimeter of the flagstone and a large wooden cross juts out of the grass a few yards away. In front, there are five parking spots that read "Reserved Parking Memorial Visitors," and on either side of the pole are plaques that invite those visitors to reflect on sacrifices made a full two years ago.

The small memorial is adjacent to the storefront recruiting center that was attacked by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, on July 16, 2015. The shooting lasted about a minute, and a Marine recruiter was injured in the barrage. The assailant then sped off to the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Cente on Amnicola Highway, where he gunned down five service members before being shot and killed by police.

The memorial marks the place where that nightmare began. It materialized in the weeks after the attack, cobbled together by the generosity and drive of dozens of community members who wanted the same thing — to remember.

"We wanted to build something here where the people of Chattanooga can come to mourn. Something tangible that they can come to that could be a memorial as to what happened to these men," said Keith Whitley, the property manager who helped lead the charge on the memorial's construction.

"We still have a lot of visitors that come all the time."

HAPPENING TODAY

> Lee Highway Memorial Ceremony

Where: Recruiting Center, 6219 Lee Highway

When: 10:45 a.m.

Cost: Free

› Chattanooga Strong Community Concert

Where: Tennessee Riverpark, 4301 Amnicola Highway

When: 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Randy Goins, the owner of RG and Associates, a local construction company, was one of the first people to contact Whitley about working toward something that could enshrine the memories of the the lives lost.

He was with his wife, who was having knee surgery in Knoxville, when he saw Whitley being interviewed on television about the attack. His company had supplied doors to Whitley's location, and when Goins learned about what happened, he began racking his mind for a way to help.

"I knew that we had a flagpole in our warehouse that our contractor hadn't picked up and I asked Keith, 'Can we put up a flag as a memorial?'" he said.

"We donated it and I found a company that volunteered some workers. We got there at 2 o'clock in the morning, and by 2 in the afternoon, it was done. That was a week after the shooting."

But Goins wasn't the last to contribute. Business owners and community members stepped up in droves, coalescing around the effort. New red, white and blue lights went up across the property and concrete was poured for the memorial's foundation.

"Before we knew it, it had grown to an extremely big project," Whitley said. "When all was said and done, probably $100,000 had been spent and given by people who wanted no recognition for it."

The result was a piece of hallowed ground that still draws mourners who come to pay their respects. Master Sgt. Lamar Hooper, who manages the recruiting center, said he frequently sees people stop for a moment to reflect on the event.

"I've seen folks that have stopped for other reasons and then go pay tribute to the memorial," he said. "I think it gives the families something and it gives the community something, because we don't want those folks forgotten.

"Chattanooga honors their folks that serve. It's a great town to be a part of and see the support that we get. It's not sporadic. It's every day."

Two weeks before this year's anniversary of the attack, an elderly man stood at attention for a moment in front of the flagpole. He declined to give his name, but said he was a Marine.

"I didn't know them, but they were my brothers," he said. "They paid the ultimate price and I hope we never forget that.

"That's why it's important to have this place marked. It serves as a constant reminder."

Other memorials have cropped up around Chattanooga, pointing like signposts to the tragedy: flags on the Tennessee Riverwalk and Ross's Landing, a mural of the service members facing McCallie Avenue, and a mammoth concrete and metal piece in the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.

Several have been privately funded and placed on private land, including the memorial near the recruiting center, but Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials are making headway on another large project set for construction a stone's throw from the reserve center.

That memorial has been budgeted for $750,000, and the city and county have agreed to contribute $250,000 each toward its completion. Three artists have been picked to submit design proposals, and after plans are finalized this fall construction will begin in 2018. Officials hope to have it completed this time next year.

Whitley is proud of the way his community stepped up to see the memorial on his property completed, but he's also thrilled there will be another near the reserve center.

"I think there needs to be a monument out there because that's where the loss of life occurred. I think it's great that the city is wanting to do something like that," he said.

But that project, at least, is out of his hands, and Whitley will continue tending to the one he helped happen. He works with various groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to do a handful of events at the memorial every year. Today, the flag will be replaced in a ceremony with a 21-gun salute, a performance of taps and a moment of silence.

The new flag will be raised over cars cruising by on the highway, the small patch of stone and the plaques, emblazoned with an account of what happened that day and in the days after.

"We did not riot. We prayed. We did not lash out at easy targets for revenge. Instead, we invited each other into our lives, homes and places of worship," one reads.

"This memorial is for those who died that day — the 'Chattanooga Five' — and for all of us who responded to the unthinkable with the unbreakable."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT