Despite political pressure to avoid calling the Chattanooga attacks on military personnel an act of terror, the Department of the Navy has declared that it will posthumously award the Purple Heart to four Marines and a sailor killed in the attack.
Another Marine wounded in the shooting will also be awarded the Purple Heart.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus released a statement that reads, in part:
“Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines. This determination allows the Department of the Navy to move forward immediately with the award of the Purple Heart to the families of the five heroes who were victims of this terrorist attack, as well as to the surviving hero.”
The announcement comes just hours after a news conference where the FBI director finally labeled the shootings an act of terror.
“We’ve investigated Chattanooga as a terror attack from the beginning,” Director James Comey said. “The Chattanooga killer was inspired by a foreign terror organization. It’s hard to entangle which particular source… there are lots of competing poisons out there.”
The language Comey used was important because the law that governs the Purple Heart specifies that service secretaries can award the decoration in stateside incidents when the attacker was in contact with and inspired by foreign terror organizations.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Sgt. Carson Holmquist were killed at Navy Operational Support Center Chattanooga on July 16, and Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith died July 18 from wounds sustained during the shooting. Marine Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley was shot in the leg and later recovered. All were nominated for Purple Hearts.
Mabus said he hoped the award would comfort the families in some way.
“Although the Purple Heart can never possibly replace this brave sailor and these brave Marines, it is my hope that as their families and the entire Department of the Navy team continue to mourn their loss, these awards provide some small measure of solace,” he said. “Their heroism and service to our nation will be remembered always.”