EAST COBB – Hundreds gathered inside the Sprayberry branch of the U.S. Post Office Monday morning as it was dedicated to a local Marine killed two years ago in a mass shooting at the Naval Reserve Center in Chattanooga.
Marine Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, a 2012 Sprayberry High School graduate, was one of five service members killed when a 24-year-old Tennessee man opened fire on two area military installations.
Witnesses said the five victims were killed trying to fight off the gunman or help others to safety.
On Monday, hundreds of veterans and city, county, state and federal officials were on hand for the dedication ceremony, which included scores of Patriot Guard Riders who lined the walls of the post office carrying American flags.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who filed a bill to have the post office named for Wells last year while he was still in Congress, said the Marine’s heroic actions and the legacy he left behind would live on forever.
“It’s so important,” he said, recalling the thousands who attended Wells’ funeral service two years ago. “He’s a true American hero. When I learned that one of the individuals murdered by the terrorist in Chattanooga was a member of the community, I realized we had to do more than simply have a memorial service.”
He said the 21-year-old was gunned down doing what he was called to do: helping and protecting others. Now, he said, Wells will be forever remembered as a hero.
Wells’ friends and family were also present for the dedication. His mother, Cathy Wells, said she fought hard to keep from crying as she looked out on the rows of people in attendance.
“He’s still here,” she said of her only child. “He’s with me everywhere I go.”
Speaking with a group of reporters after the dedication, the single mother recalled the trip to Disney World her son took her the week before he was killed.
“He was so happy that he got to take his mom to Disney World,” she said, adding she had taken him every year since he was three. “That was his turn to pay me back.”
The memories they made on that trip, she said, are ones that will last forever.
A veteran herself, Cathy Wells said her son followed in her footsteps. Though she encouraged him to join the Navy as she did, Wells opted to join the Marine Corps instead.
He only ever wanted to serve, his mother said, recalling the final actions of her son, three other Marines and the Navy sailor who gave their lives to save others.
“They all went back,” she said. “Marines are a strange breed. They run toward the sound of chaos (when) everybody else runs away.”
Sprayberry Principal Joe Sharp said his students look to Wells as an inspiration.
“We’ve got a very strong ROTC program that Skip Wells was a member of,” he said. “This is still an event that affects many of us.”
U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, who was elected to Price’s seat last month, said while much attention is paid to what’s happening in Washington, Congress’ true mission is to serve the needs of its constituents back home. Dedicating the post office to Wells, she said, ensures his heroic actions will not be forgotten.
“Hopefully this provides some measure of comfort to his family and keeps his memory alive,” she said.
Cathy Wells said she never realized just how much of an impact her son had on those he knew until after his passing, that she learned more about the type of man he was after his death than she ever knew during his life.
“It brings a smile to my face just to know that his name is going to be repeated,” she said. “He was a friend to everybody. Nobody was ever a stranger, nobody was ever left alone. If there was one kid that was sitting by themselves at lunch, Skip would sit with them.”
She said she was grateful for all Price did to get the resolution passed naming the post office for her son. She also had a message about the importance of remembering those who served.
“Whenever you go to a national cemetery or see a veteran, shake their hand,” she said. “When you go to the cemetery and you walk by those headstones, say their names so that those families know their loved ones are not forgotten.”
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