Archive for Monday, October 30, 2000

USS Cole starts long journey home

October 30, 2000

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— To the sound of patriotic music, Yemeni tugs pulled the crippled destroyer USS Cole out of Aden harbor Sunday to begin her long journey home, 17 days after a suicide attack killed 17 American sailors and wounded 39 others.

The Cole's departure ends a chapter in the worst attack on U.S. military personnel since the 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force housing compound in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 service members. It also brings some closure to the remaining members of the Cole's crew, who will fly home to their families in the United States this week.

As the American destroyer was towed out of the harbor, her crew appeared proud and dignified. At 9.30 a.m., sailors in blue uniforms raised and saluted the American flag, as the national anthem blared from loudspeakers. For the past two weeks, the flag has been flying at half-mast. As the anthem played, four yellow tugboats pulled the 505-foot destroyer, with a 40-by-40-foot hole in her side, slowly out of the harbor.

The "Star-Spangled Banner" soon gave way to "Cowboy," a rap song by Kid Rock that's about survival and rebellion. As the loudspeakers blared, "I wanna be a cowboy, baby," the song seemed to amplify the mood of the crew, which fought heroically to save their ship and their mates after two suicide bombers rammed a boat full of explosives into the Cole as it was refueling.

The Cole's crewmembers, who have remained on their ship since the attack, were given the option to fly back to the United States on Sunday evening. Virtually all of them, however, decided to stay aboard and chaperone her to the Blue Marlin, a massive Norwegian heavy-lift ship waiting 20 miles away in the deeper water of the Arabian Sea.

"I'm not going to say they've put the attack behind them," said a Navy official who spent two days last week on the Cole. "But I think they're ready to move ahead."

U.S. officials Sunday vowed to continue pressing a joint U.S.-Yemeni investigation into the attack.

"The Cole left proudly," said Barbara Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. "She left with the help of our friends, but she still left entirely on her own."

Flanked by four Navy patrol boats mounted with machine guns and carrying U.S. Marines in green flak jackets, the Cole made its way southeast, past scores of Yemenis perched on the streets. U.S. Navy helicopters hovered above the Cole.

"This is like a party mixed with sadness," said Khaled Muhammad Ali, 45, a controller at Aden Port. "We are also feeling sad for the Americans."

"We hope this does not happen again," he added.

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