July 16, 2015 is a day that residents of Chattanooga, TN, will never forget. This date marks a tragic domestic terrorist attack on five military personnel, which devastated the city. First the gunman launched a drive-by shooting at a recruiting center where four Marines died on the spot, followed by a trip to a U.S. Navy Reserve center where he continued firing. At that site, a Navy sailor, a Marine recruiter and a police officer were wounded; the sailor died from his injuries two days later. To honor the five victims, the city of Chattanooga invited artists from around the country to submit design proposals for a memorial. After a review process in 2017, the City chose Houston artists Shane Albritton and Norman Lee of RE:site Studio for their “Wreath of Honor” design. A palette of Texas limestone and Tennessee flagstone were chosen to bring the beautiful and serene stone memorial to life.

“That day will always be remembered here in Chattanooga,” said Patrick Wells, chief executive officer of Majestic Stone in Dayton, TN, the stone supplier for the project. “Chattanooga is a growing city, but still feels very small relative to the larger cities within a two-hour radius of us that really get all of the attention, like Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville and Birmingham. Chattanooga, in many ways, feels protected. As if nothing like this could ever happen here. But on that day, it did.”

According to the artists at RE:site Studio, “Wreath of Honor” was inspired by the transcendent form and symbolism of a wreath. “For many cultures, wreaths represent notions of eternity, continuity and memory,” stated the studio. “Within military history, wreaths carry special layers of meaning: victory, bravery, peace. In the military tradition of wreath-laying ceremonies, this reverent gesture recognizes honor and sacrifice. A suspended wreath eternally embodies this ritual of remembrance. Not touching the ground below, the suspended wreath creates a powerful gesture that marks the Riverpark site made sacred by the attacks that occurred on July 16, 2015.”

RE:site Studio went on to say that the artwork and landscape was created to respectfully acknowledge the sacrifice of the Fallen Five and their families and to address both the tragic and heroic acts that occurred on that fatal date at the U.S. Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC). “The memorial will celebrate the unique character of the Chattanooga community and provide a space to share stories and memories of the tremendous acts of kindness, support and strength that occurred following July 16th,” stated the studio.

The sculptural wreath consists of interlacing tempered stainless steel arc bands that were waterjet cut with the powerful words of tribute from the community. “The words and circular form of the wreath become a powerful symbol of unity for Chattanooga,” stated RE:site Studio. “The relationship of the pillars and wreath become a metaphor for how Chattanooga will forever be connected to the Fallen Five and how the Fallen Five will always lift up the community and stand as beacons of hope, honor, valor and sacrifice.”

The pillars of the “Wreath of Honor” are formed from Texas limestone, which were fabricated by Austin, TX-based Escobedo Group. Each pillar is a tribute to one of the “Fallen Five” with their name and bio engraved in the stone.

The radius cut flooring — quarried and fabricated by Majestic Stone of Dayton, TN — is a Grey Tennessee flagstone. The flooring was installed by G&P Masonry of Chattanooga, TN.

“Natural stone has a sense of permanence about it,” said Wells. “It’s timeless. Similar to the suspended wreath, a symbol of unity and continuity, natural stone is used as the foundation and the support that holds it all together. At Majestic Stone, we say this all the time around our office, ‘It’s about more than stone.’ And that’s the truth. At the dedication of this memorial, stone wasn’t mentioned one time. Why? Because it’s not about the stone. It’s about the lives of those men who died in service to our country. It’s about the families that were impacted. But we do recognize that we play a small part in memorializing those men and their families through providing the foundation of the memorial.

“I attended the Dedication Ceremony with my five-year-old little girl, Hallie Grace,” Wells went on to say. “While, at five, she can’t fully understand the loss of lives and the sacrifices that were made, she had a real reverence and peace about her. As if she knew, inside of her, that this memorial and these families deserved our highest respect and appreciation. That’s the effect this memorial has on you. You walk up to it and it takes your breath away. Similar to the memorials around Washington, DC. You feel in awe and are overcome with appreciation.”

According to Wells, it meant a great deal for Majestic Stone to be involved with this project. “Being a part of these types of projects is very surreal to me,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in selecting the perfect pieces that have just the right color range and specification for the job. With the natural variation in color in our flagstone, it’s important to hand-select the slabs used so you don’t have pieces that distract from the intent of the memorial, which is to honor the lives of the men and their families. I wanted our material to blend in, to be perfectly natural, as if it wasn’t even there. We have a small role to play in supplying the material, but we take it very personal. Quarrying, fabricating and hand-selecting the pieces is our way of honoring the Fallen Five.”

From ground breaking to the opening of the “Wreath of Honor” memorial, the project was completed in approximately a year and a half. SW

“Wreath of Honor”

Chattanooga, TN

Artist: RE:site Studio, Houston, TX

Landscape Architect: WMWA, Chattanooga, TN

Stone Suppliers/Fabricators: Escobedo Group, Austin, TX (Texas limestone); Majestic Stone, Chattanooga, TN (flagstone)

Stone Installer: G&P Masonry, Chattanooga, TN (flagstone)