Once upon a time: Out of step with the normal

Praying for five servicemen, their families, and the Chattanooga community

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

The Chattanooga area, tucked in the southeast corner of Tennessee, is no stranger to bloodshed – dating all the way to Indian days.

Granted, most of the time since the Spanish landed in Florida near the end of the 15th century has been peaceful, but there have been bloody exceptions. The native Americans in the southeastern United States were not always peaceful. The introduction of Spanish conquistadors (de Soto, et al) had bloody moments. The skirmishes between the British and the Americans left a bloody mark on the Chattanooga area, and the American Civil War had so-called Christians pitted “brother against brother.”

It didn’t stop there.

During the 20th century, signs in Chattanooga’s downtown area posted as few as 100 years ago said “Irish need not apply” and reflected an anti-Catholic bias that two world wars helped to pacify.

Then it happened. A mentally ill American citizen in the summer of 2015 did it again. Shots fired by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed four Marines and one sailor, shocking the area; indeed the entire country.

Using the term “martyr” in the broad sense of the word might bring us closer to the tragedy of July 16, for were not these men, relatively young, doing their patriotic jobs unarmed?

It reminds us of young Christian men throughout the ages whose lives were taken: men like young St. John the Evangelist; St. Anthony of Padua; soldier St. George; Charles Lwanga; and St. Dominic Savio. Their deaths were out of step with the normal.

Let’s look at the Chattanooga martyrs.

Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, 21, of Marietta, Ga., was exchanging text messages with his girlfriend when the tragic shooting erupted. The Marine was excited that she had booked a flight to visit him in Chattanooga after months apart. His last two words texted to her were “ACTIVE SHOOTER.”

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40, of Springfield, Mass., had been enlisted in the Marines for nearly 18 years, serving two tours of duty in Iraq and earning two Purple Heart medals, one for each Iraq tour.

Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 37, of Hixson, Tenn., joined the Marine Corps following the tragic events of 9/11, and spent 11 years serving in locales like Okinawa, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Chattanooga, Wyatt recently was named coordinator for an up-coming Toys for Tots campaign. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Sgt. Carson Holmquist, 25, of Grantsburg, Wis., joined the Marine Corps in 2009 and served in Okinawa and Afghanistan, earning the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal, two Sea Service Deployment ribbons, and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He is survived by a wife and son.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26, of Paulding, Ohio, was critically wounded by the gunman and was taken to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga for treatment. However, he died from his gunshot wounds two days after the shooting.

Remember the story of the five Sullivan brothers from World War II who were killed in action aboard the USS Juneau. When representatives of the Armed Forces came to the Sullivan home, they said they had information about their sons. When Mr. Sullivan replied, “which one,” one of the military representatives said, “I’m sorry; all five.”

Thank you Chattanooga parishes and your priests for your positive, supportive role in all this. And thank you, Bishop Stika, for celebrating the 9 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul on Sunday, July 19.

May the souls of these servicemen rest in peace. Amen. ■

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general and the historical archivist for the Diocese of Knoxville.

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