Marine Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley, a recruiter injured during the Chattanooga shooting last July, will now proudly wear a Purple Heart. In addition to commemorating his own bravery as he helped evacuate poeple within the recruitment center, Cheeley’s medal will also serve as memorial for the five service members who lost their lives.
“I can’t take anything away from the five brave men who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Cheeley said at the ceremony. “I will wear this in honor of those men and every recipient before me. I can only move forward from here and continue to recruit the future of the Marine Corps.”
Last July, the country watched in horror as homegrown militant Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez stormed a recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tenn. and sprayed the building with bullets. In the chaos, Cheeley was shot in the leg. He and several others evacuated the area through a backdoor.
In an interview with the Marine Corps Times, Cheeley remembered being shocked that he was injured in the United States rather than in hostile territory.
“I honestly didn’t believe it while I was at the recruiting station, waiting on the ambulance,” he said. “I didn’t believe it when I got to the hospital because the doctors couldn’t see anything on X-Rays. They only saw an entrance and exit wound. Not until I got home and I saw the PT shorts I was wearing had a hole in the back right where the wound was, that’s when I believed them. I’m like: OK, I guess it really did happen.”
The Chattanooga shooting claimed the lives of four Marines and a sailor: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells and Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith. All five will be awarded their own posthumous Purple Hearts.
(Photo Credit: Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Diamond N. Peden/Released)