MELISSA BLOCK, host:
On October 12th, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole pulled into the Port of Aden in Yemen. As the state-of-the-art destroyer refueled, two al-Qaida recruits approached in a small boat loaded with explosives. They blew a 40-foot hole in the side of the ship. The blast killed 17 American sailors, and wounded dozens more. Ten years on, crew members recall the events of that day.
Mr. ROBERT OVERTURF (Supply Officer, U.S. Navy): The colors were very striking. There was a mist over because it was early in the morning; we got there before sunrise. But there was this field littered of sunken ships - destruction all over. And to think that we were going to pull into that to refuel was a little bit odd. My name is Robert Overturf, and I am a supply officer in the Navy.
Mr. KIRK LIPPOLD (Former Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Cole): This is Kirk Lippold. In 2000, I was the commanding officer of U.S.S. Cole, an Aegis guided missile destroyer. I think everybody realized that there was an elevated threat level, but when we pulled in, there was no evidence of a specific threat - for that port, or for our ship. Shortly after 10:30, we started refueling the ship, and it was routine.
Lieutenant ELROY NEWTON (U.S. Navy): My name is Lieutenant Elroy Newton. I went down to the oil lab to take station, and about two minutes after that is when we felt and heard a huge explosion.
Mr. OVERTURF: It was a million sounds in one - the sound of buckling, ripping, shredding metal; the sound of everything. It was like being inside of a drum.
Chief Warrant Officer SUSAN CZOSCJKE (U.S. Navy): Everything went dark ...
Ms. PAMELA JACOBSON (Retired Master Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy): The darkness...
Chief Warrant Officer CZOSCJKE: And then nothing.
Mr. LIPPOLD: You could feel all 505 feet and 8,400 tons of guided missile destroyer violently thrust up into the right. Lights went out. And within a matter of seconds, I knew we'd been attacked. In my mind, first and foremost is what's the status of the ship? Because if you can't save the ship, you certainly aren't going to be able to save the crew. I don't know if there were going to be follow-on attacks. I pulled out a 9-millimeter pistol, loaded it, de-cocked it, went down and outside, prepared to defend the ship.
Ms. JACOBSON: My name is Pamela Jacobson. I remember the captain coming up on the bridge. He had his 9-millimeter drawn. And I remember thinking, well, something really bad must have happened because he's got his weapon. He's running around here with a gun. I mean, a lot of things run through your head. You know, am I going to see my kids again?
Mr. KRIS DETLOFF (Retired Electrician's Mate, U.S. Navy): My name is Kris Detloff, and I was an electrician's mate, second class. I just remember thinking, what's going to stop these people from coming back and finishing us off, essentially.
Mr. OVERTURF: After the explosion, it was total, deafening silence. That went to people coming back saying: Oh, my God, there's a hole. It's 30 by 40 feet. It's a big hole. We're flooding. The engine room is gone. The oil lab is gone. The galley is gone.
Chief Warrant OFFICER CZOSCJKE (U.S. Navy): My name is Chief Warrant Officer Susan Czoscjke. It was just black. This black soot covered the entire ship, and people were out there, and they were bloody and soot-covered. As we - I walked down towards one of the repair lockers, there was someone down there that - and they said, there's dead people everywhere.
Mr. OVERTURF: Shortly thereafter, wounded started coming back to the repair locker. I opened up the laundry - that was the largest space - so we started bringing wounded back. We had people with broken legs, broken jaws, bloodied. It was a little bit difficult to process what was going on when you see people that you had just seen moments earlier -laughing, joking, having a good time - and the next moment, they're wounded, hurt bad.
Mr. JAMES PARLIER (Retired Master Chief, U.S. Navy): My name is James Parlier, retired master chief. I was a hospital corpsman for 21 years. Well, I made my way down the starboard passageway, towards what we call the log room - that's where I saw one of the sailors that was in the worst condition yet, and I decided to do CPR. When I first started doing mouth to mouth, I got a mouthful of blood. So I knew he was bleeding internally, into his lungs. And then a chief came over and said: James, you're going to have to stop. So I had to make the call. It's the first time in my life I ever have to do that. I had to let him die.
Lt. NEWTON: We will pause each time that they recovered one of our shipmate's - bodies.
Ms. JACOBSON: All work stopped onboard the ship.
Mr. LIPPOLD: The crew would be assembled topside.
Ms. JACOBSON: And we rendered honors to that person.
Mr. LIPPOLD: And they would be taken ashore by the Marines, using their Zodiac.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. PARLIER: That's the point in time that it was real to me. You know, my close friends aren't coming back.
Mr. OVERTURF: When we finally did get the last sailor off, it was time to put a new flag up. And when that flag was finally at the top of the pole, we beamed a halogen light as bright as we had on her, to show them son of a bitches that we were not defeated. That was our proudest moment. Ten years later, it's still tough. You never get away from it. It's like losing family, you know? You can try to fill the hole, but you're always going to feel the loss.
BLOCK: Former crew members of the U.S.S. Cole, remembering the day their ship was attacked - 10 years ago tomorrow. Our story was produced by Matt Ozug for America Abroad, PRI's monthly international affairs program.
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