White House Remembers Sailors Killed in USS Cole Attack
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 13, 2005 The sailors who died on board the USS Cole in a terrorist attack were remembered Oct. 12 at Arlington National Cemetery on the fifth anniversary of the attack.
Retired Navy Cmdr. John Alexander, director of communications and public affairs, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, reads the roll call of remembrance - the names of the 17 sailors killed in the Oct. 12, 2000, terrorist attack on the USS Cole. Ben Barbin (center) strikes the triangle after each name, as retired Navy Capt. William Perry strums his guitar honoring the dead sailors. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The White House Commission on Remembrance hosted the ceremony at the site where three of the guided missile destroyer's crewmembers are buried.
As the Cole was refueling in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, a small craft approached the port side of the guided missile destroyer and exploded, blasting a 40-by-40-foot hole in the ship's side. The attack took the lives of 17 crewmembers and 39 others were injured. The repaired ship returned to duty a year later.
Carmella LaSpada, director of the White House Commission on Remembrance, read a message from President Bush.
"On the anniversary of this tragedy, we pay tribute to those who were lost and recognize their courage and determination to fight for freedom," the message read in part. "Each answered a noble call and demonstrated a love of country and a devotion to duty that have inspired countless Americans. Today, the vital work of spreading liberty continues, and our country will persevere until we see freedom's victory.
"We'll always remember those lost aboard the USS Cole, and we honor their bravery by continuing to defend liberty and lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren," the president's message noted.
This year, the commission sponsored the remembrance ceremony with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.
Family members placed remembrance wreaths at the gravesites of Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth E. Coldfelter, Seaman Cherone L. Gunn and Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, buried side by side.
Navy Capt. Christopher W. Grady, a former commanding officer of the Cole, gave remembrance remarks during the ceremony. He's now the deputy executive secretary of the National Security Council.
"Today, we observe the fifth anniversary of a tragic and cowardly act that took the lives of 17 of our bravest, best and brightest," Grady told the small gathering. "We'll forever remember their courage in the face of evil, and we'll forever marvel at their commitment to the service of our country and all that is just.
"They were our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sweethearts and friend, and, or course, they were our shipmates," Grady noted. "We sailed with them and they were always there for us, backing us up as sailors and as warriors. And also as comrades-in-arms whom we depended upon and leaned on in every human way."
The captain said the nation is at war on terror where evil defiles everyone's lives in places like Mombassa, Casablanca, Riyadh, Jakarta, Istanbul, Madrid, Baghdad, London and New York.
Quoting President Bush, Grady said, "We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war is won."
The captain recalled taking the Cole to sea for the first time after the attack. "I had the great honor to command Cole when she deployed for the first time following that fateful day in Aden," Grady noted. "I can tell you that throughout that deployment, the spirit of our fallen comrades enabled everything we did, every mission we accomplished.
"From the Straits of Gibraltar to the coast of Syria, we were driven," he said. "Driven to take the fight to the enemy and to do our part against the scourge of terror. And we were good - the best -- because our 17 fallen shipmates were with us and would have it no other way."
Gunn's father said the remembrance event and others before it have been helpful. "This is the fifth anniversary, and it still seems like it was yesterday," said retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Louge Gunn. "This brings good solidarity to the families. We enjoy coming here and appreciate what this commission is doing every year for the Cole families."
Gunn, who served 21 years, said his son was 22 years old when he was killed, "trying to fulfill his life's dream of being in the military like his father."
John Clodfelter, father of another Cole sailor buried at Arlington, said he appreciated the ceremony. "They really did a nice job," he said. "It's something I'd be proud to tell anybody about."
Clodfelter said he had been able to get the Virginia legislature to pass a bill to authorize the production of a USS Cole state license plate. "It has been out for more than a year now," he said. "We were the first to get the plates." He said many Cole crewmembersd and residents of Norfolk, Va., the ship's homeport, have them.
The commission has sponsored the remembrance ceremony at the cemetery every year since the attack on the Cole. "The whole idea is that they should be remembered every day of the year," LaSpada said. "This is a special time to bring the families together to let them know that their loved ones have not been forgotten.
"We recognize (the families) because they're casualties of the war on terrorism too," she said. "The ones that we honor today, the fallen, have had the courage to die for their country. And the families who lost loved ones have had the courage to go on living."