Chattanooga shootings put Fleischmann in national spotlight

Chattanooga’s U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has been “a low-key, drama-free presence” in Congress, says Michael Collins: But the horrific shootings in his home district propelled him onto the national stage in a way that he never envisioned and never wanted.

CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all wanted interviews. He granted those requests and too many others to count.

Because the scene of the tragedy was in his district, reporters wanted to know anything he could tell them about the shootings, the area, its people. He wanted the world to know about the five men — four Marines and one sailor — who had been gunned down and about how the community was pulling together.

“We came together very quickly and worked day after day and are still working on this,” he said of his friends, neighbors and constituents.

…Leading the (House memorial) observance “was extremely difficult to do,” he said. “I don’t mind telling you that when we finished the floor speech and I went back to my office, I had blurred vision. I was still ill. And I’m still ill over this.”

After the observance ended, many of his colleagues — brothers and sisters of the House, as he calls them — approached him to offer their condolences and urged him to do something else as soon as possible to honor the five victims.

Last week, he filed legislation to award all five the Purple Heart, a military decoration given to service members wounded in combat or awarded posthumously to the next of kin of those killed in action. The bipartisan bill has 75 co-sponsors, and Fleischmann is hoping it will get a vote when Congress returns from its summer break in September.

Fleischmann said he has been deeply touched by the support he has been shown by his House colleagues — Republicans and Democrats alike — since the shootings.

“The five service members who died tragically at the hands of this person who committed this heinous act have been honored and dignified and will be forever cherished by our Chattanooga community,” he said. “Now I know, after having seen the support of my brothers and sisters in the House, they will be honored and cherished forever in America.”