Twelve years ago today in the Port of Aden, Yemen, we, in the Navy community, lost 17 shipmates. The USS Cole (DDG-67) was attacked when suicide bombers pulled alongside and detonated explosives. The resulting explosion tore a huge hole in the side of the Cole and killed seventeen sailors and wounded thirty-nine.
The immensity of such a tragedy is compounded exponentially when one of those lost is a coworker, shipmate and friend. Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders was that shipmate and friend.
I can hear Tim’s booming baritone voice with that mid-Atlantic drawl asking me what was for dinner on the mess decks, asking me to tell him what I did in port or if anything had happened on the mid watch. He was the guy that was first to make a joke, usually at your expense, but it was never filled with malice or ill feeling. He was genuinely giving you a good ribbing and always had a contagious smile on his face. I can’t think of a single time I didn’t see a wide grin on his face. The only thing that didn’t pale in comparison to his smile was his sea stories… they were raucous and fun to say the least, whether true or not is irrelevant now, but I sure loved hearing them and the way he told them made you want to be there. Man that guy could spin a yarn.
He was always first to offer to take your mid-watch or duty day in a foreign port so you wouldn’t miss any of the fun. He always acted as if he had been there, seen that and had the tee shirt (usually in the form of a sea story) to prove it.
He took my duty day in Brest, France because I had never been before, and the fog that delayed our arrival in France had meant that I would not get ashore at all because of duty. His offer when he heard about my plight was immediate. He took my duty so I could go ashore. He wanted all the details when I got back aboard and we chatted in CDC for hours about it. I think he was just getting interesting details for more of his sea stories. I am telling you that he could have written a New York Times best seller with some of his tales.
I am not certain if Aden was a working port, I would wager that if it were a liberty port, Tim was onboard that day because he was taking a duty day for one of his shipmates that had not been to Yemen before or he could just see that a shipmate needed that day off more than he did. Tim was just that kind of guy. You could count on him. He was a guy that just enjoyed himself even when the rest of us were bitching and moaning about this or that. Tim was the guy that always saw the bright side and never had an ill word to say about anyone or anything. I could take a lesson from Tim’s book even today.
I would like to be able to write something specific for all that died on the Cole that day but I only knew Tim. So I take comfort in the belief that all of those sailors have someone personally remembering them today.
All I can do is list their names here and hope that someone who remembers them can, if they are so inclined, share something with us so they can be remembered by us all as more than just a name on a list.
Thank you Tim; I am a better person today because I had the honor of knowing you then.
On your eternal voyage I wish you fair winds and a following sea.
Names of those killed in the attack on the USS Cole:
Richard Costelow, Chief Petty Officer Morrisville, Pennsylvania.
Cheron Luis Gunn, Signalman Seaman Recruit ,Rex, Georgia.
James Rodrick McDaniels, Seaman, Norfolk, Virginia.
Lakiba Nicole Palmer, Seaman Recruit, San Diego, California.
Timothy Lamont Saunders, Operations Specialist 2nd Class, Ringgold, Virginia.
Andrew Triplett, Ensign, Macon, Mississippi.
Craig Bryan Wibberley, Seaman Apprentice, Williamsport, Maryland.
Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, Hull Technician 3rd Class, Mechanicsville, Virginia.
Lakeina Monique Francis, Mess Specialist Seaman, Woodleaf, North Carolina.
Timothy Lee Gauna, Information Systems Technician Seaman, Rice, Texas
Mark Ian Nieto, Engineman 2nd Class, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Ronald Scott Owens, Electronics Warfare Technician 3rd Class, Vero Beach, Florida.
Joshua Langdon Parlett, Engineman Fireman, Churchville, Maryland.
Patrick Howard Roy, Fireman Apprentice, Cornwall on Hudson, New York.
Kevin Shawn Rux, Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class, Portland, North Dakota.
Ronchester Mananga Santiago, Mess Specialist 3rd Class, Kingsville, Texas
Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., Fireman, Rockport, Texas