When I first got word of the tragedy in Chattanooga, the word that immediately came to mind was heartbroken. Heartbroken for the lives that were lost. Heartbroken for the families who are remaining. Heartbroken for the community of Chattanooga and Sen. Corker.
Last Friday, at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, there was a memorial service and nearly 1,000 people attended. Sen. Corker spoke. Gov. Haslam spoke. Others spoke, including the police chief. I was honored to speak as well.
I know more people in the country know about what happened that day. Most of them would have liked to be there. You never know quite what to say. Sometimes all you can do is just be there.
In Chattanooga, faith is strong. In Chattanooga, the sense of helping one another is strong. Chattanooga is a place of good neighbors. Chattanooga was recently named the best mid-sized city in America. Everything in Chattanooga has seemed to be going in the right direction – and then this. So it’s especially heartbreaking in the community of Chattanooga.
At the memorial service, I said I had been trying to think about what I could add to the words that were being said. I thought of the time in 1985 when 289 members of the 101st Airborne division lost their lives in a plane crash in Newfoundland, and President Reagan came to Fort Campbell to meet with the families and to talk about it. I was governor then, and I drove up to hear what he had to say. He spoke of those men and women then, as these five were, as peacekeepers – there to protect the lives and to protect the peace, to act as a force for stability and trust for our country. Their work – President Reagan said at the time, of those 289 which can as equally well be said of these five –was the perfect expression of the best of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They were the ones of whom Christ spoke when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
President Reagan said of the 289 who lost their lives 30 years ago what could be said of these five, what a poet said of soldiers in another war, “They will never grow old, they will always be young, and we know one thing with every bit of our thinking, they’re in the arms of God.”
Chattanoogans said last Friday the two words, “Chattanooga Strong.” They were repeated by Sen. Corker, by the governor, by most of the members of the community – people standing up, supporting each other, supporting the families who had been heartbroken by the loss of their loved ones.
I am enormously impressed with the people of Chattanooga. And so is the rest of the country: On July 21, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution offered by Sen. Corker and me condemning the deadly attack and honoring the five service members who lost their lives. As we honor the five, we honor the city and its response to this terrible tragedy and I pledge to continue working with Sen. Corker to do all that I can to help those five families and to help keep Chattanooga strong.