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With the nation mourning the loss of four Marines and one Navy officer who lost their lives in the attack on two military centers in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday, Gainesville High School JROTC member Cadet Lt. Alexx Smith organized a vigil to support the community.
The vigil was held Saturday night at The Rock on Pearl Nix Parkway next to Gainesville High School.
The loss felt close to home for Smith and other members because of the death of Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, who was from Marietta, one of their rival schools.
Memorials were set for Wells as well as the other service members: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan of Hampden, Mass., Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, N.C., Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wis., and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith of Paulding County, Ohio. American flags representing each name were posted along the roadside during the vigil that ended in a candlelight prayer and moment of silence.
“I didn’t really feel as though I had to do something about it because it was my duty. I felt as though I had to do something about it just as a young woman in my community,” Smith said.
Smith said that she was at her aunt’s house when she heard about the attack. Her broken heart was accompanied by the realization that tragic events like that can happen anywhere.
Since Thursday, Smith has been on the phone planning the event, putting her life on hold to have the vigil for the community.
“I put my needs second to this because I felt that this was something that needed to take place even if it was only 10-15 people. It was something that needed to happen,” said Smith.
Thinking about her fellow JROTC members, Smith wanted to show them that there is more than competition and training. They were a family.
“Seeing everybody in the community come together like this, even if it’s something small, it’s one more person coming together, a few more people in our community coming together,” Smith said.
Seeing the support from Marine veterans, who spoke about what it means to be a Marine and the unnecessary tragedy of Thursday’s events, Smith was amazed at seeing them standing amongst other members of the community, standing together as one.
Harold Nash, leader of the Marine Corp League and chairman for Georgia Statewide Veterans Treatment Court Task Force, was one of the veterans who spoke, and helped with the organization of the event.
“I’m very appreciative for Alexx Smith’s efforts on this,” Nash said. “I think this was something that was put together very, very quickly and I think in view of that and being on a Saturday evening, the turnout was very good and this was very well received.”
Gary McBride, legislative officer for disabled American veterans, chapter 17, gave out bios on all the military members killed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those that we have lost.”