The Stream‘s Tom Sileo Wins Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s O.P. Smith Award for ‘The Protector’

Sileo's story about one of the marines killed in the Chattanooga terrorist attacks showed how a hero was mourned, and memorialized, by his community.

By The Stream Published on March 7, 2016

Here at The Stream, we work to bring you stories you may not hear everyday, but stories that you should. We just learned that one of these stories has earned an award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

The Protector,” by contributing senior editor Tom Sileo, takes readers to the memorial of Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, one of the marines killed in a terrorist attack on a Navy-Marine recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sileo’s report describes the scene:

Just as the Navy veteran prepared to read Lance Cpl. Wells’ final orders, I noticed a single red balloon floating into the evening sky. I then thought of Skip’s three fellow Marines and one Sailor murdered in Chattanooga who, like Skip and the red balloon, had soared into the heavens. I thought about all five families and communities that were grieving on this humid summer night. I also thought about the U.S. Marine whose life was spared because Skip volunteered to put on our nation’s uniform.

At the emotional ceremony’s conclusion, hundreds of balloons joined the red one already ascending into the parting evening clouds. In that powerful moment, it became clear that Skip wasn’t alone in paradise. For all time, he will be surrounded by generations of departed American warriors who gave everything to defend the freedom we hold so dear.

While it’s impossible to know who would have been standing guard in his place on that terrible day in Tennessee, one thing is certain. U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells saved somebody’s life.

“He protected us,” Esserwein said.

“I am very grateful to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for selecting ‘The Protector,'” Sileo said, but added, “Of course, this prestigious honor is not about me.” Sileo likes to keep the focus on the military heroes he writes about, from unknown soldiers to medal-of-honor recipients — all the soldiers who sacrifice for our freedom everyday.

“This is about U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, who, along with three fellow Marines and a U.S. Navy sailor, made the ultimate sacrifice during the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks in Chattanooga,” Sileo said. “We salute these five fallen heroes and their loved ones.” Sileo asks, “Please keep the protectors of Chattanooga, their families, and our nation’s entire military community in your prayers.”

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