Four Marine families were presented with the Purple Heart medal nine months after their loved ones were shot and killed by a homegrown terrorist last summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The families of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist and Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells received the medals from Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian, head of Marine Corps Forces Reserve, during an April 20 ceremony at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga.

The Marines, members of Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, were killed July 16 when a lone gunman opened fire on the Navy Operational Support Center after firing dozens of rounds into a nearby recruiting center.

Top left to right: Sgt. David Wyatt, Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, bottom left to right: Sgt. Carson Holmquist and Thomas Sullivan

Photo Credit: File photos

The Marines proved themselves heroes that day once the bullets began to fly, McMillian said.

"These four Americans were all unique souls, they all came from different backgrounds and went about their business in their own way," he said. "But they did share one thing in common: they responded."

The Marines reacted with total disregard for their own safety. Rather than flee the shooter, one Marine ran throughout the facility warning others, Maj. Mike Abrams, Mike Battery's commander, told Military Times after the attack.

"Several Marines scooped up children at a nearby playground and quickly moved the families out of harm's way," he said. "Some Marines made the decision to go back into the fray to search for others."

Some Marines shepherded civilians to cover and concealment in a utility building down the road; others established a defensive perimeter around the facility's  NOSC’s cement break room to shield other civilians.

Staff Sgt. Wyatt rallied junior Marines to evacuate civilians from the building and clear the neighboring playground. The privates first class immediately executed, said Sgt. Jeff Cantu, Mike Battery’s supply chief.

"You're looking at PFCs doing this amazing stuff with no one to direct it," he said. "Just Marines doing Marine stuff."

The shooter, 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was shot and killed by law enforcement personnel.

"Our brothers were taken from us; your sons, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers were taken from us," McMillian said at the Purple Heart ceremony according to a Marine Corps news release. "But what cannot, and will not ever be taken from us is the incredible impressions they made on each and every one of us."

Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith was shot and killed alongside the Marines in the attack; his family received his Purple Heart medal in a private ceremony earlier this year. Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley, a Marine recruiter shot in the leg when Abdulazeez sprayed his office with bullets, also received the Purple Heart medal in January.

Five months after the attack, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the Marines and sailor were eligible for the Purple Heart after an investigation by the FBI and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service concluded that Abdulazeez's assault was inspired by a foreign terrorist group.

"They were my brothers," Maj. Christopher Cotton, Mike Battery inspector-instructor, told the Marines' families at Wednesday's ceremony. "I can never thank them enough, I can never thank you enough for what they did."

Staff reporter David Larter contributed to this report. 

Last March, several Congressional lawmakers petitioned Mabus to have the Navy name a ship the USS Chattanooga in honor of the Marines and sailor lost.

"The name will be added to a list that the secretary reviews each time he has a ship to name," Capt. Patrick McNally, a spokesman for Mabus, told Marine Corps Times. "We get a great many requests and there are only a certain number of ships that are named after cities."

Also in attendance at Wednesday's ceremony were Brig. Gen. Paul Lebidine, the commander of 4th Marine Division, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, and Police Chief Fred Fletcher.

Marines, family and friends attend a Purple Heart ceremony in honor of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire Wells at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tn., April 20. The Marines were honored for giving their lives to protect others when they were attacked by a gunman at the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Chattanooga on July 16, 2015.

Photo Credit: Master Sgt. John Lee/Marine Corps

Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at

In Other News
Load More