By Devon Hubbard Sorlie
Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command
Throughout the ship, there are small memorials to the 17 Sailors who died when terrorists attacked the ship while it was refueling in Yemen, Oct. 12, 2000. Each served as a vivid reminder to the more than 200 Sailors who have inherited the legacy of those who died and those who valiantly fought to save their ship.
There is the “Hall of Heroes” in a passageway along the mess line leading to a memorial listing the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Seventeen stars are embedded in the blue-speckled deck, representing the Sailors who walked that hallway 15 years ago, the ones who died when a terrorist-driven small bloat exploded at 11:18 a.m. on the port side of the destroyer, ripping open a 40×60-foot hole in the ship’s hull. Another 39 Sailors were injured.
17 Sailors Forever Remembered
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21
Chief Electronics Technician Richard Costelow, 35
Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19
Woodleaf, North Carolina
Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy Lee Gauna, 21
Signalman Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, 22
Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19
Engineman 2nd Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24
Vero Beach, Florida
Seaman Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22
San Diego, California
Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19
Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19
Cornwall on Hudson, New York
Electronic Warfare Technician 1st Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30
Portland, North Dakota
Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32
Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26
Ensign Andrew Triplett, 31
Seaman Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19
To commemorate the 15th anniversary, tours will be offered on the ship on Monday, which has been at the Marine Hydraulics shipyard in Norfolk since the ship’s return this spring from a deployment to the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility. A ceremony will also be held Monday at the USS Cole (DDG 67) Memorial at Naval Station Norfolk.
While the Sailors who serve on Cole today understand the importance of the date of Oct. 12, and the need to remember the service and sacrifice of that day, they will also tell you that they are acutely aware – every day – of the importance of their missions, the need to keep training, and to be constantly vigilant in their duties. The artifacts throughout the ship continue to inspire and motivate them.
“We see these tributes every day – the three flags, the 17 stars, the Hall of Heroes – daily reminders of why we are here and protecting the United States and each other,” Ensign Dustin Baker said. At age 30, Baker is similar in age and rank to Cole victim Lt. j.g. Andrew Triplett, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the Tennessee native. “There is no way you can see the sacrifice they made and not have it drive you to do your best,” he said.
Among the memorabilia on the ship, the three flags may pack the most emotional punch. The first flag was flying the day of the bombing, still tarnished with smoke.
“That flag flew the entire time the crew was fighting the fires,” Baker said. For 96 hours, with temperatures well into the 90s, the crew worked furiously to keep the ship afloat and limit the damage, while others triaged the wounded and recovered their fallen shipmates.
The second flag was draped over the casket of commingled remains discovered onboard the ship when it returned to the U.S. On Dec. 9, 2002, the remains were buried at sea with full military honors once the ship returned to the fleet.
The third flag flew on the destroyer when USS Cole sailed back into the Gulf of Aden in July 2006, a symbol of strength and perseverance.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Lorraine Farfanlopez, 25, has served on the ship for a year. “To be onboard this ship is an honor, not every corpsman gets to serve on a ship,” she said. And every day, as she sees the memorials, it is a constant reminder of the dangers faced by America’s sailors operating forward in a dangerous world.
Sailors on destroyers often talk about how closely they all work together, and that’s no different for Farfanlopez of Menifee, Calif.
“I can only imagine what those corpsmen went through (on the day of the bombing) because we all know each other and there isn’t a day when we don’t see someone. We help keep the crew going physically and emotionally as well,” she said.
What happened on the destroyer is an example of why the crew trains so hard at damage control, she added, because it is because of expert damage control that USS Cole is still with the fleet.
Returning to the Fight
The bombing only strengthened the resolve of the Sailors who served on USS Cole and across the Navy, a fitting tribute to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which will soon be back at sea after completing its current round of maintenance.
It took only 14 months for Cole’s return to the fleet following the bombing, a fitting tribute to the ship’s motto: Determined Warrior and the skill and dedication of the American shipbuilding industry.
It also mirrored the perseverance and bravery of the ship’s namesake, Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sgt. Darrell S. Cole. He was rated as a field musician at the beginning of World War II, but was determined to serve in combat as a machine-gunner, not a bugler. Each time he requested a rate change, he was denied. But that didn’t stop the 24-year-old Missouri native, who filled in so often for machine-gunners he earned the nickname “Fighting Field Musician.” On his fourth request, Cole was finally granted permission to change his rating.
Cole was at Iwo Jima in February 1945 during the Marine-led assault to take back the island. When his unit was pinned down by two Japanese encampments, he attacked them both, individually taking them out before being killed by an enemy grenade as he returned to his unit. Besides the Medal of Honor, Cole received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
A year after the attack on USS Cole, a memorial was dedicated at Naval Station Norfolk. The three granite slabs representing the tri-colored U.S. flag are surrounded by 28 black pine trees to signify the 17 Sailors and the 11 children they left behind. Steel from the ship’s hull was used to forge the commemorative plaque that highlights the crew’s response to the bombing.
“Drawing upon their Navy training and discipline, the crew heroically conducted more than 96 hours of sustained damage control in conditions of extreme heat and stress. Deprived of sleep, food and shelter, they vigilantly battled to preserve a secure perimeter and restore stability to engineering systems that were vital to the ship’s survival,” the plaque states.
Although the ship honors those who died while serving on the ship, it is no floating memorial or museum. Having deployed more than a half-dozen times since the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing, USS Cole (DDG 67) remains a fighting warship in the U.S. Navy, thanks to the incredible efforts of those who fought to contain the damage from the bombing, as well as those who serve aboard the ship today with the same honor, courage and commitment.