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Clinton Leads Mourning for 17 Killed in Cole Explosion

Ceremony: Thousands, including the wounded, join weeping family members to celebrate sailors' lives. President vows justice for those responsible.

October 19, 2000|ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT and STEPHEN BRAUN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORFOLK NAVAL STATION, Va. — On a gray, overcast Wednesday, President Clinton led the Navy and the nation in mourning the deaths of 17 sailors lost aboard the U.S. warship Cole and warned those responsible for last week's bombing attack, "You will not find a safe harbor. We will find you and justice will prevail."

With thousands of sailors watching, along with weeping family members of the dead, Clinton celebrated the sailors' lives. "In the names and faces of those we lost and mourn, the world sees our nation's greatest strength," he said.

Several of the sailors seriously wounded in the attack lay on gurneys or sat in wheelchairs, their arms hooked to intravenous tubes, listening to the speeches and prayers of the memorial service held on Pier 12 at the massive naval station here. Norfolk is the home port of the Cole, which was preparing to refuel in Yemen last Thursday when a small boat came alongside and a bomb exploded.

Flanking the pier was the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower to the right and, on the other side, the guided missile destroyer Ross. As the somber ceremony began, the crews lined up along the sides of their vessels, snapping to attention when the president arrived.

Nearly 4,000 Navy personnel from both ships and a host of other commands were present. Many wore ribbons of blue and gold--the Cole's colors--in honor of the dead.

During the service, helicopters circled over the pier, a long finger of concrete and steel at the north end of the shipyard. The horizon was obscured by mist. Just before the service started, rain fell briefly, sending scores of white-uniformed sailors scurrying out to wipe dry the seats where Clinton and other dignitaries would sit.

When the presidential motorcade glided to the edge of the pier, three bells clanged. An unseen officer barked, "United States, arriving!" And then, as a bosun's whistle sounded, the multitude of sailors saluted, standing stiffly as half-mast flags fluttered in the chill breeze.

The Navy's chief of chaplains, Rear Adm. Barry Black, stepped to the lectern and began on a note of somber realism: "We are reminded freedom is not free and the price we must sometimes pay is exceedingly high."

He was followed by Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet; Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations; Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig; and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"I love America because it loves its citizens," Danzig began. "In other times and on this very day in other places, people are regarded as means and not ends, as fodder, steppingstones, dispensable assets. Because we are not like that, we grieve today."

"We see in the 17 people who died on October 12th, 17 wonders, 17 sons and daughters," Danzig continued. "We mourn brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and those who will never be mothers and fathers. Seventeen unique people. We cherish them. We grieve because we couldn't protect them. Instead, they died protecting us."

Speaking last was Clinton, who returned to Washington on Tuesday after a hastily arranged and exhausting Mideast summit in Egypt. Accompanied by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, the president spoke slowly in a low and sometimes hoarse voice.

"We are all mindful of the limits of our poor words to lift your spirits or warm your hearts," the president said.

Clinton had met privately with the families and the wounded before the service.

Many of the Cole families stayed dry-eyed through most of the memorial service. But as Clinton began speaking of the lives cut short and paraphrased lines from an Archibald MacLeish poem--"The young no longer speak, but they have a silence that speaks for them at night"--emotion overcame many. Relatives began dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs and balled-up tissues, and some collapsed into sobs.

"We know we will never know them as you did or remember them as you will--the first time you saw them in uniform, or the last time you said goodbye," the president said. "They all had their own stories and their own dreams. We Americans have learned something about each and every one of them over these last difficult days as their profiles, their lives, their loves, their service have been given to us."

Those who died had come to the Navy from 12 different states, including California. Most were younger than 30.

"We know that God has given us the gift of reaching our middle years, and we now have to pray for your children, your husbands, your wives, your brothers and sisters who were taken so young," the president said.

The dead: Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter; Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow; Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis; Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy Lee Gauna; Signalman Seaman Apprentice Cherone Louis Gunn; Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels; Engineman 2nd Class Marc Ian Nieto; Electronics Warfare Technician 3rd Class Ronald Scott Owens; Seaman Apprentice Lakiba Nicole Palmer (of San Diego); Engineman Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett; Fireman Apprentice Patrick Howard Roy; Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class Kevin Shawn Rux; Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ronchester Mananga Santiago; Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Lamont Saunders; Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr.; Ensign Andrew Triplett; and Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberly.

*

Rosenblatt reported from Washington and Braun from Norfolk.

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