The 20th anniversary commemoration ceremony in honor of the 17 Sailors that were lost and the 37 injured during the attack of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) was held on Naval Station Norfolk, Monday, October 12th.
The attack, which preceded the 9/11 attacks on America, happened while in Aden, Yemen. Suicide bombers approached the vessel, on a small dinghy, and set off explosives.
Officers, Cole crewmembers, family members of the fallen and friends came out to attend the pier side event. Guest speakers included: Admiral Christopher W. Grady, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Retired Admiral Robert J. Natter, commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet/Fleet Forces Command and Commander Edward Pledger, commanding officer, USS Cole (DDG 67).
“The story of USS Cole is one of remarkable heroism, exceptional toughness and a fierce determination… it is also a story of solemn sacrifice,” said Grady. “Their actions epitomized America’s fighting spirt of bravery, toughness, tenacity, and a resolve to never give up.”
Although 20 years have passed, the ship is still a strong fighting force, new crews have manned the rails and those who were children then, have grown into adults; the aftermath of the attack froze time for the survivors and loved ones left behind. Normal took on a new, unwanted, definition and coping became the daily struggle. Against all odds though, strong sentiments emerged from the ashes of despair. These emotions can best be described through the Navy core values: Honor, Courage and Commitment.
“We train like we fight,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Mia Foster, a crewmember of the USS Cole. “The way that the crew responded is what we use for training purposes. Today we honor them, and the courageous sacrifice they made.”
Following the attack, the Navy developed new training scenarios modeled after the Cole bombing. All Sailors like Foster go through an intense 12-hour scenario in recruit training known as Battle Stations-21. The training includes a series of simulated attacks at sea and requires recruits to stop the flooding, fight fires and prepare to defend from a second attack, similar to what the crew of the Cole successfully did on October 12.
During the commemoration, a video highlighted the significance of Battle Stations-21 and a former Cole crew member, Jason Mosher. At the time of the attack, Mosher was an active duty Sailor and today he is one of the Battle Stations-21 simulation operators.
“The Cole is being honored every day with recruits that come through this trainer, so for me, as a USS Cole survivor, … it is immensely rewarding,” said Mosher. “USS Cole was incorporated into the legacy of battle stations. Less than three years after the attack on Cole, it was already being kept fresh in every generation of Sailor that has come through boot camp. That in itself, can’t be quantified and it is amazing to see that happening.”
One of the scenarios takes place on a destroyer’s mess deck, and the clock on the mess deck of the ship is set to the time that Cole was attacked, 11:18 a.m.
“The clock being set to the time is significant to me. It’s a good way to memorialize the Cole in a really tangible way. The most important thing to me about working at battle stations and keeping the Coles legacy going, is, hoping that the families and the loved ones of those who lost some of my shipmates can know that their loss is not in vain and that everyday their memory is being honor.”
Mosher helps run the battle stations simulation for more than 40,000 new Navy recruits each year.
As the speeches concluded, each Sailor was recognized by the toll of a bell by a current Cole Sailor with the same rate and rank of those deceased, followed by a wreath dedication, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps:
Signalman Cherone L. Gunn,
Seaman Lakiba N. Palmer,
Fireman Patrick H. Roy,
Seaman Craig B. Wibberley,
Seaman James R. McDaniels,
Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina M. Francis,
Engineman Fireman Joshua L. Parlett,
Fireman Gary G. Swenchonis Jr.,
Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy L. Gauna,
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Kenneth E. Clodfelter,
Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ronchester M. Santiago,
Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class Ronald S. Owens,
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy L. Saunders,
Electronics Warfare Technician 1st class Kevin S. Rux,
Engineman 2nd Class Marc I. Nieto,
Chief Electronics Technician Richard Costelow and
Lieutenant Junior Grade Andrew Triplett.
The commemoration ceremony serves as a not only a remembrance, but a reunion for the Gold Star Families. It is the day they all have in common, but wish they didn’t. Family members greeted each other with hugs and warm sentiments before the start of the ceremony and left each other in the same manner afterward.
“It’s amazing how something like this can bring everybody together,” said Martin Gauna, the uncle of Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy L. Gauna. “It’s literally a bond and although we all suffered tragic losses, in the end we’ve gained a new extended family.”
Every October 12th, Sailors around the world pause to remember the 17 and their sacrifice. In his final thoughts, Grady concluded, “And so, owing to the significance of Cole’s story to our Navy and our nation, today, we pause in places spanning the globe: to remember those that we lost too soon, to honor the heroic actions of the crew and to reflect on our responsibility to carry Cole’s legacy forward.”
The commemoration ceremony was live streamed and currently available for viewing on the Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic (SURFLANT) webpage at https://www.surflant.usff.navy.mil/remember67.