NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The Navy marked the 10th Anniversary of the USS Cole (DDG 67) terrorist bombing in Aden, Yemen, on Tuesday with a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, the ship's homeport.
The destroyer was on a refueling stop on Oct. 12, 2000, when it was attacked by suicide bombers. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 injured in the attack.
Current and former crewmembers from the ship, along with family members, attended the ceremony which was held at the site of Naval Station Norfolk's USS Cole Memorial.
"Our sailors who were lost that morning, ten years ago, were not just victims of some random act of senseless violence. They were United States Navy sailors, forward deployed, who had volunteered to serve our nation and defend our freedom when they were attacked. And it is that service, and their sacrifice, that we honor today," said Adm. J.C. Harvey, Jr., Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, during the ceremony.
"We lost 17 of our shipmates that terrible morning ten years ago, but they are far more than just 'our' sailors, Harvey told the family members in attendance. "They were your fathers, your sons and daughters, your sisters and brothers. They loved to work on cars. They ran track and played football. They acted in high school plays. They loved life, they loved living, and they loved you. They were proud to serve."
Harvey also spoke of the valor demonstrated by the crew, not only on the day of the attack, but on the subsequent days as they battled to save the ship from sinking, with little water, less food, and operating in searing heat and darkness below decks.
"As we pause to remember the shipmates we lost, and what they died for, it is also important to remember the actions of the crew who saved their ship," said Harvey. "Cole was hit, and hit hard that day. Surviving the first 72 hours following the attack would take every ounce of courage, toughness, and strength that her sailors possessed.
"Each hour was a struggle, fraught with setbacks, frustration, misery and exhaustion. The blast had created a 40 by 60 foot breach in the port side of the hull that literally opened up the ship to the sea. Rapid, decisive action would have to be taken to keep the ship from sinking."
"They worked without electrical power, which meant there would be no automatic pumps to remove the water that had rapidly flooded the lower decks," continued Harvey. "No shipboard communications to help organize the complex damage control efforts. No ventilation system to clear the thick, black acrid smoke that filled the below deck spaces. And no overhead lights to help them maneuver through the dark ship as they urgently attended to their wounded and fought to control the flooding."
"By the end of the first three days of the struggle to save their ship, our sailors were extremely tired, hungry, close to exhaustion, but they never quit. They rallied time and again, and over the course of those 72 hours, proved they were as capable and courageous as any sailor who had ever worn a Navy uniform. They prevailed against overwhelming odds. They saved their ship."
Attending Tuesday's ceremony was John Clodfelter. Ten years after his son Kenneth was killed in the attack, his pain endures.
"When you look at his autopsy report, it's just horrendous the way he was just tore up," Clodfelter told WAVY News 10. "And even though he was the first one killed, it took Navy divers to find him."
Ken Bower who had been in the Navy lass than one year when he survived the bombing, said he cannot get the images out of his mind.
"It was so violent and quick, it almost felt like it lifted the ship up out of the water... The nightmares and stuff, anxiety attacks, it happens all the time.."
Bower no longer serves in the Navy, however he says he receives weekly treatment for headaches and flashbacks from the attack at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Kansas near his home.
The USS Cole's Commanding Officer on that fateful day, Retired Commander Kirk Lippold, also can't forget. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of my sailors," he said after the ceremony.
Despite the lessons learned from that day, Lippold thinks the Navy is still not doing everything it can to prevent another Cole-style attack.
"As long as we keep focusing things downward the chain rather than holding some of the Admirals accountable for how they're manning, training and equipping our ships, and giving them, the CO's, the procedures they need to protect them, then we are not going to have this problem solved for the long term," said Lippold. "And eventually we are going to be putting our ships in jeopardy again."
The Cole, now back in service, recently returned from a deployment to the Gulf of Aden.
From the outside, there is no evidence of the blast that nearly sunk the vessel. Below decks, memorials such as a case holding a smoke-charred flag that survived the blast and 17 gold stars on the passageway known as the Hall of Heroes, serve as constant reminders.
The Hall of Heroes leads directly to
the bulkhead that took the brunt of the blast on the day of the terrorist attack. Those honored there are:
- Hull Maintenance Technician Second Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21, of Mechanicsville, Va.
- Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, 35, of Morrisville, Pa.
- Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, N.C.
- Information Systems Technician Timothy Lee Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas
- Signalman Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, 22, of Rex, Ga.
- Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19, of Norfolk, Va.
- Engineman Second Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24, of Fond du Lac, Wis.
- Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24, of Vero Beach, Fla.
- Seaman Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, of San Diego, Calif.
- Engineman Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19, of Churchville, Md.
- Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19, of Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y.
- Electronics Warfare Technician First Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30, of Portland, N.D.
- Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22, Kingsville, Texas
- Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32, of Ringgold, Va.
- Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26, Rockport, Texas
- Ensign Andrew Triplett, 31, of Macon, Miss.
- Seaman Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Md.
During Tuesday morning's ceremony, a ship's bell rang 17 times - once for each of the sailors as their names were read aloud. A wreath was placed on the memorial at 11:18 a.m., the exact time the USS Cole was struck ten years ago.
The USS Cole Memorial at Naval Station Norfolk is built from 17 granite slabs to symbolize the sailors who died, and is surrounded by 28 black pine trees to represent those sailors plus the 11 children they left behind.
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