Navy, Nation Mourn Fallen USS Cole Crew Members
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va., Oct. 18, 2000 Even the sky seemed to mourn during the Oct. 18 memorial service here for the victims of the Oct. 12 explosion that ripped the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.
President Clinton, Defense Secretary William Cohen, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Henry Shelton, Attorney General Janet Reno, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, members of Congress and 5,000 other people joined the family members of the 17 deceased to fill Pier 12 here, on the Chesapeake Bay. Ships surrounded the pier, their decks lined with white-uniformed sailors.
Many of the 39 sailors injured in the blast were also present, some in hospital beds with medical staff and family members at their sides. The remains of eight of their shipmates, previously listed as missing, were en route home at the same time, defense officials said.
Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, tried to describe the emotions felt in the aftermath of such a tragedy. "Shock, anger, great respect and appreciation, then emptiness, then sadness are felt in such a profound way," he said. "We find ourselves reaching for the right words."
Clark mentioned an e-mail one of the fallen sailors had sent home before the blast. "Mom, we're in dangerous waters, but I'm OK," the note said. The admiral said that message told him these sailors knew they were in harm's way, but they also knew they had an important mission.
"The young no longer speak, but:
"They have a silence that speaks for them at night.
"They say: We were young, remember us.
"They say: We have done what we could, but until it is finished, it is not done.
"They say: Our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them.
"They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope, we cannot say; it is you who must say this.
"They say: We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning."
Archibald MacLeish, American Poet, 1892-1982 (as recited by President Clinton at the USS Cole memorial service, Norfolk, Va., Oct. 18, 2000)
"Freedom and the values we cherish sometimes come at a high price," he said.
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said these 17 deceased join the more than 1.3 million service members who have died for America. "They add a building block to America," he said. "Will we live up to that gift? I think we will."
Shelton said those killed and injured are "now and forevermore a part of the family of patriots that have made our country the greatest country on Earth. For our tomorrow, they gave their today."
Before the ceremony, Clinton met with the families of those killed. He read their names aloud to a silent crowd during the ceremony and then recited the poem "Young Dead Soldiers" by Archibald MacLeish.
Many had words of warning for the alleged terrorists as well.
"Those who perpetrated this act of terror should never forget America's memory is long and our reach is longer," Shelton said.
"To those who organized and orchestrated this barbarous act, you are on notice that our search for you will be relentless and that America will not rest until we find you and the long arm of justice reaches out -- however long, however far -- and makes you pay for this crime," Cohen added.
Clinton also said the Cole tragedy needs to serve as a reminder to the American public that even when the United States is not at war, the men and women of the U.S. military still put their lives on the line every day.
"No one should ever pass an American in uniform without saying, 'Thank you, we're grateful,'" Cohen said, "always mindful that they are prepared to risk all their dreams so that all of us can reach and realize ours."