With all of the noise being generated this summer by a certain presidential candidate from New York, recognition of a worthy story has been lost in the din. That story is the heroism of two U.S. Marines killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On July 15, a rampager barged into a military recruiting station, firing a powerful assault rifle and other guns. The military personnel present at the station ran from room to room, pushing troops out the back door where they assisted them in getting over a parking lot security fence and into safety.
Two of the Marines pushing fellow troops out of the building over the fence and into safety included Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan and Marine Staff Sergeant David Wyatt. Sullivan and Wyatt could have jumped over the fence, too, and run for certain safety. Instead they ran back into the building to battle the rampaging shooter, a man presumed by many (but not yet the F.B.I.) to be a politically motivated terrorist. Shots were fired at the killer, who was killed by Chattanooga police. In running back into the building to confront the shooter Sullivan, 40 and Wyatt, 37, clearly saved lives, but paid the ultimate price; they were killed by the attacker.
How many people would risk their lives to do what Sullivan and Wyatt did? How many would have, instead, yielded to the temptation to hide and live? The bravery displayed by Sullivan and Wyatt defines courage. Heroism such as this often goes unnoticed, or barely noticed. More time is spent worshipping celebrities, athletes or movie actors, who so frequently disappoint adoring fans. More public attention is also devoted to the shooters than is given to their victims or the occasional heroes who stand up to the tragic and senseless bloodbaths caused by rampagers. Rampage shootings sometimes produce heroes like Sullivan and Wyatt. Yet there is a good chance you've never heard of Liviu Librescu, Bill Badger or Jeffrey May, all rampage shooting heroes.
Liviu Librescu was a 76-year old college professor at Virginia Tech. In April, 2007 when rampage shooter Seung-Hui Cho tried to enter Librescu's Mechanics class, Librescu barricaded the door with his body giving an opportunity for Librescu's students to jump out the classroom window and into safety. The shooter killed Librescu, who no doubt saved many lives. The irony of Librescu's fate was that as a young boy he survived a Nazi Camp, only to later succumb to an American rampage school shooting.
In March, 2005 during the Red Lake (Minnesota) High School massacre, while rampage shooter Jeffrey Weise momentarily stopped shooting to reload, ninth grader and football player Jeffrey May tackled him, stabbing Weise with a pencil but allowing other students to flee for safety. Weise and May wrestled and Weise shot May in the face. May survived the shooting but endured many months of painful rehabilitation.
Bill Badger, a 74 year old retired Army Colonel was sitting in attendance at the January, 2011 "Congress On Your Corner" constituent event being held outside the Tucson, Arizona Safeway when Jared Loughner started shooting people, eventually killing 6 and wounding many more, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. After being hit by a bullet that grazed his head, Badger, now on the ground, jumped up to tackle Loughner, who like Weise had paused to reload. Badger (and others) held the armed killer, preventing any additional victims from being shot.
The two marines, Thomas Sullivan and David Wyatt, leave behind families. Sullivan was a two-time winner of the purple heart and is survived by his parents Jeremiah and Mary Sullivan, along with a brother and a sister. Wyatt is survived by his young wife, Lori and two small children, Rebecca and Heatth. Like Librescu, May and Badger, Sullivan and Wyatt are legitimate American heroes possessing unusual courage. We should remember their names.