Everyone has a day that will live in infamy for them; for most Americans, that day was September 11, 2001. For me, I have two. Of course, there’s 9/11, but there’s also October 12, 2000. That was the day that the Guided Missile Destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked during a refueling in Aden, Yemen. There are many stories about that day, including this one from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cole_Bombing.
This is mine.
October 12, 2000 started off as a normal day for me; I had just gotten off of a 12-hour midwatch at 6:00am, and I was going to go grab breakfast and hop in my rack for some much-needed shuteye. So, I did just that; after I ate, and my chief ran his damn mouth for about an hour at morning muster, I went to berthing, got out of my coveralls, and went straight to sleep. This was at about 8:00am. Four hours later, my body decided to wake me up, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was then when I heard these words come from my Commanding Officer:
"…so, we are heading to Aden, Yemen at top speed. So, to recap, there are four Cole sailors dead…"
Huh?! I had suddenly forgotten I was bone dead tired, got out of my rack, got dressed, and found the first person I could: Aaron Boulley. I asked him what the hell happened, and our conversation went like this:
Me: What the hell happened?!
Boulley: What? Didn’t you hear?
Boulley: A boat ran into the Cole and blew a hole in it.
I ran back to Radio Central (my workspace on the ship) and asked a few people there; they told me the same thing. I sat at our message traffic center, and found a high precedence message that was sent from 5th Fleet to the Cole asking them to contact them immediately. Of course, they didn’t. Our chief came in and told us all that we were going to be providing security and communications support for them. One of our other Raidomen wanted to go, but the chief told her she couldn’t; so, he chose me instead. I accepted the job, went to the Gunner’s Mate shop, and got my gear together for this mission: a loaded 9MM pistol, a Kevlar vest, a water canteen (of course), and a weapons belt. We found out that we would be close to the coast by the end of the night, and that we would make our way over there first thing in the morning. I told my chief, and he told me to try and go back to sleep. It was difficult, but I was able to manage a few hours rest, because I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.
Now, there were already pictures of this attack on our secure Internet access, so I had a vague idea of the hole, but nothing would prepare me for what I was about to witness in person. As our small boat left the safe haven of the USS Donald Cook, I said a small prayer to myself, and tried to steady my nerves for what was coming next.
Then, as we got closer to the Cole, I saw that the pictures did it no justice. To see the blackened, jagged edges of the hull, to see the ship leaning on its side, to be able to see the inside of the ship from the outside was just horrendous. We got onboard and assessed the damage to the best of our abilities, as well as provide roving security before leaving to head back to our ship. As the days progressed, we started sending crews over to help stand watches and help the crew shore up and deflood their spaces. We also helped provide security around the perimeter of the ship. Eventually, other ships came, and we began to stagger off somewhat. But, when it came time for the Cole to make her journey home, the only ship that escorted her was the Donald Cook. My ship. My home. My family.
The final casualty toll was 17 dead and 39 injured. They don’t take into consideration the dreams that were shattered, the shell shock that I’m sure some of the survivors must go through, and the black eye on the U.S. Navy.
But, that’s okay.
People sometimes ask me why I continued to serve; why I still fought on. I tell them for the 17 Determined Warriors who can’t anymore. I tell them I did it for HT2 Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, ETC Richard Costelow, MSSN Lakeina Monique Francis, ITSN Timothy Lee Gauna, SMSN Cherone Louis Gunn, SN James Rodrick McDaniels, EM2 Marc Ian Nieto, EW2 Ronald Scott Owens, SN Lakiba Nicole Palmer, ENFN Joshua Langdon Partlett, FN Patrick Howard Roy, EW1 Kevin Shawn Rux, MS3 Ronchester Manangan Santiago, OS2 Timothy Lamont Saunders, FN Gary Graham Swenchonis, Ensign Andrew Triplett, and SN Craig Bryan Wibberley. I did it for them; I did it for all of you so we all can be free; I did it for God and Country.
I did it for the Cole.