By Hugh Lessig Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
NORFOLK, Va. — Norm Larson, who survived the attack on the USS Cole 10 years ago, cried openly as his right arm snapped up in salute. Moments later, he was smiling with friends.
It was that kind of day at Naval Station Norfolk.
Navy brass and sailors joined Tuesday with the extended family of the USS Cole to mark the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed 17 of the ship’s crew as it was docked in Yemen.
Under a cloudless sky, they gathered at the USS Cole Memorial, built from 17 granite slabs to symbolize the sailors who died. The memorial is surrounded by 28 black pine trees to represent those sailors and the 11 children they left behind.
The memorial is a testament to the importance the Navy attaches to Oct. 12, 2000. The oft-heard phrase on Tuesday was “10/12 happened before 9/11,” signifying when the Navy’s war on terror began.
“For many, the pain has not begun to subside,” said Adm. J.C. Harvey Jr., commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. “Sadly, it probably never will.”
That pain was etched on the face of Larson as the ceremony climaxed with the laying of wreath at the memorial. He served as a chief gunner’s mate on the Cole during the attack, and the day was an important milestone for him. The day should be important for the country, too, but the newspapers back in his hometown didn’t note the anniversary.
“I hope people don’t forget it,” he said. “It’s so easy to blow it off.”
Louge Gunn is a grief counselor in Virginia Beach, Va. On Oct. 12, 2000, he was meeting with a family who had lost a son when he heard news of the attack. Later, when he found out his own son was among the dead, he went into panic-stricken rampage. He punched the wall, tossed a chair and thought about killing himself.
On Tuesday, he clearly found comfort with other family members who had lost their children and said he was willing to wait for justice.
“We know something is going to happen,” he said, “sooner or later.”