Remembering The Day Chattanooga Honored Sgt. David Wyatt

Sunday, July 17, 2022 - by Robert K. Schrader, Chattanooga Funeral Home

One of the greatest honors of my funeral career was serving as the funeral director for Staff Sgt. David Allen Wyatt. It was seven years ago that he, along with three other Marines and one Navy Sailor, gave their lives for our great country. As I think back to the events of that day and the week that would follow leading up to the funeral, I simply cannot express the emotions I experienced alongside his grieving family.

To bring Staff Sgt.

Wyatt home from Dover Air Force Base, we traveled to Nashville in a motorcade that included the hearse, four limousines, and approximately 10 personal family vehicles. We were properly escorted by the Chattanooga Police Department as well as the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Few words were spoken in the limousine I was driving that carried his widow, son, daughter, and parents. Once we arrived at the airport, we received the welcome of royalty.

The rain began to fall like I had never seen before. The son said it was the angels crying.

As we approached the plane that carried the flag-draped casket and remains of Staff Sgt. Wyatt, it seemed as though time stood still. People curiously peered from the tiny windows of the airplane, and the large windows of the teminal began to fill with people standing at attention, a few with their hand over their heart.

We escorted the family from the four limousines closer to the plane to witness the arrival of their hero.

The flight crew meticulously and reverently positioned the casket for its removal from the plane. Waiting below were six perfectly uniformed Marines. The family watched from underneath umbrellas as the Honor Guard carried their fallen brother to the waiting hearse. Every step perfectly synchronized, and every motion perfectly formed. The heavy rain did not distract them from their honorable duty.

Traveling back to Chattanooga, now with our hero, we noticed overhead, news crews in helicopters capturing live footage of the motorcade. Every overpass in Davidson and Rutherford counties held first responders waving flags and paying tribute to this Marine and his family.

Arriving back at the funeral home, the Honor Guard placed the casket holding Staff Sgt. Wyatt inside the funeral parlor. Family members processed around the casket, each laying loving hands on the flag-draped casket welcoming him home.

The Honor Guard stood watch the entire night and the following day leading up to the time for the funeral service which took place at the family's church.

The choir loft held more than 100 Marines; the congregation held probably more than 500 which included numerous national and local dignitaries. His service was emotional, yet comforting; funny, yet reverent; and solemn, yet joyous.

The minister, family members, and officers of the Marine Corp. reminiced about moments of David's life.

While I was honored to be a witness of such an amazing celebration service, nothing could have prepared me for what followed.

Once we descended the stairs of the church and the casket was once again honorably placed inside the hearse, the 15-mile procession to Chattanooga National Cemetery began.

Lining the streets the entire route were thousands, upon thousands of people. A sea of red, white and blue covered the landscape. People waved flags, some cried, some cheered, and many veterans and active military members saluted.

Soft sniffles came from inside the limo carrying the immediate family. My heart raced at such a sight. Some points along the way, people were close enough to touch the cars. People stood on the roofs of their cars, roofs of buildings, and some even on billboards to get a glimse of their hometown hero.

I explained to the widow that this was the most honorable funeral of my career. I told her that even if I directed the service of a U.S. President, there would not be more honor bestowed than we were witnessing that day.

As we passed the roadside memorial where the fallen five lost their lives, the procession came to a standstill in reverence to the place Staff Sgt. Wyatt lost his life. Wow. What a whirlwind of emotion! I could no longer contain myself. Uncontrollably, tears began to fall down my face at the thought of such sacrifice with such dignity.

Arriving at the Cemetery, over 500 Boy/Eagle Scouts lined the streets waving flags honoring one of their own. Military Brass began making their way forward to pay respects.

The family was seated for the committal service. Suddenly a 21-gun salute shattered the silence. Then the somber playing of "Taps" in the distance brought finality to the day.

That day, I witnessed a community come together to honor one of their own.

Until you have witnessed up-close the grief of a Marine's widow; until you hear her tell her children their dad was a hero protecting us from the evil men of the world; until you know first hand what it's like to look into the eyes of a grieving family and try to comfort where no reasonable explanation exists, don't talk to me about the petty disagreements you may have with this or any other administration. Because in the end, five amazing lives were senselessly taken from their families that day, and the fact of the matter is that the disrespect we are seeing today for our flag, our amazing Military, our veterans, our President, and most importantly our God is absolutely disgusting. I for one am tired of the negativity. Let's get back to loving God, family and country.

I couldn't care less what you think of our President; what your political views are; or how you feel things should or should not be. For once, could we just agree that while evil may be present in the world, that scripture tells us, "Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in this world."

Do you really think that the families of these fallen heroes need us to disrespect the country they fought and died for? This is OUR country, and instead of complaining, we as American citizens need to be on our faces praying to God for our President and ask Him to restore peace and unity within our own nation, as well as the world.

Thank you Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. "Tommy" Sullivan, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall S. Smith, as well as your families for your sacrifice.

(Originally written in 2018)

 


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