Secretary of Defense
Remarks at Chattanooga Memorial Service
To the families – the families of Gunnery Sergeant Sullivan, Staff Sergeant Wyatt, Sergeant Holmquist, Petty Officer Smith, and Lance Corporal Wells: To you, it is with heavy hearts that Stephanie and I join you this afternoon. We have no words for what you feel today because try as we may, and try as we do, we can never fully know. But we do know what the lives of your loved ones meant to the security of our country, and we will never forget.
Vice President Biden, you honor the force with your presence today, as you do so often. Secretary Mabus, Admiral Greenert, General Dunford; Governor Haslam; Mayor Berke; distinguished members of Congress; guests; ladies and gentlemen:
As we gather today, we cannot erase the pain of our loss, but still we come together as fellow citizens to honor these five fallen patriots. To mourn with those who loved them. To provide comfort and healing as best we can. To remember the lives these brave men led. To reflect on the meaning their lives have for us, the duty their deaths impose upon us.
Their lives were truly exemplary. Many of them served abroad, and fought on the front lines of faraway battlefields in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And here at home, they were serving among the many men and women in uniform who represent our military communities – in communities across the country, on the front lines of the force of the future.
The meaning of their lives is therefore clear – crystal clear – and we will forever be proud of them.
The meaning of their killing is yet unclear, and what combination of disturbed mind, violent extremism, and hateful ideology was at work, we don’t know. Perhaps it will never be fully known, let alone fathomable, by all who have the decency and conscience to value their fellow human beings.
But we do know this:
We know that we will do what it takes to protect the service men and women who protect us. This is something we – all of us – me, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Mabus, General Dunford, Admiral Greenert, all the men and women of the Department of Defense – this is something we take personally. That is why I’ve directed the military services to fundamentally review their domestic security procedures as well as to take immediate steps to improve the security and force protection of our personnel. And we will do more if necessary.
We also know that we are the many, the just, the noble, and that the few who threaten or incite harm to Americans – violent extremists or terrorists, wherever they are – will surely, very surely, no matter how long it takes, come to feel the long arm and the hard fist of justice.
And we know that those who attempt to inspire fear or terror will find no satisfaction, have no success, in the United States of America. Instead, we come back – we come back from tragedy – stronger and more united than before.
Because across America, our reserve facilities and recruiting centers are still open. Young men and women are still signing up to serve and defend their country. They will carry forward the legacy of the fallen, and like them, they too will serve in the finest fighting force the world has ever known.
Even here in this great city, Chattanooga, Tennessee, recruits are still lining up to volunteer – in some cases, more than they were before.
In fact, one future sailor named Alexis enlisted just last week. She’d been talking to recruiters in Chattanooga before the shooting, but this senseless violence only made her want to serve her country more. It only strengthened her resolve to stand up against fear and hatred. As she said the other day, “We’re not going to let one incident destroy us. … We’re all standing strong – as a community and as a whole.”
That’s the spirit – the spirit of Chattanooga, the spirit of Tennessee, and the spirit of America and its military. That’s how we heal – by standing strong together.
So to the Sullivan family, the Wyatt family, the Holmquist family, the Smith family, and the Wells family – you’re part of our family, our military family. And you always will be. Your strength and sacrifice will continue to guide us, inspire us, and remain with us forever and ever.
May God hold close and grant peace to the souls of those who no longer live with us, but will live on within us.
May God watch over the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who continue to defend us all.
And may God continue to bless this great nation, the United States of America.