Public accepts female sailors’ deaths — for now


The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In the tense hours after the bombing of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, Chris Ferretti was among the spouses who waited anxiously at Norfolk Naval Station for news about their loved ones aboard the crippled ship in faraway Yemen.

But unlike most of the others, Chris Ferretti is a man. When his wife, Petty Officer 2nd Class Loretta Lynn Taylor Ferretti, finally was able to call, she told him that she had been very lucky. Shortly before the blast, she decided to skip lunch in favor of a nap. She was asleep when the explosion hit the ship’s mess.

The attack on the Cole, which appears to have been the first major terrorist attack on a U.S. warship, also marked another milestone: It was the first time that women permanently assigned to a Navy combat ship have died in an attack on that ship, according to Lt. Jane Alexander, a Navy spokeswoman. She chose those words carefully because the Navy is not sure whether a female nurse ever was killed while serving temporarily on a warship.

Two of the 17 sailors who died aboard the Cole were women — Lakeina M. Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, N.C., and Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, of San Diego — a fact the country appears to have taken pretty much in stride. "Whether they’re male or female doesn’t matter," said Rear Adm. John Foley, commander of naval surface forces for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. "The focus has been on all Cole sailors."

"The story is that there is no story," said another senior Navy officer. "The media didn’t say, ‘Holy mackerel.’ "

But there is sharp disagreement among the experts about what this means.

One school says the large, and growing, role of women in the military is now widely accepted. "I think the American public has gotten used to women being killed in the line of duty, not only in the military, but as police officers," said Mady Wechsler Segal, a sociologist at the University of Maryland.

Retired Navy Capt. Georgia Sadler adds, "The public understands that people who serve in the military can be killed, regardless of their gender. Thus, the public is taking the deaths of women in stride, and, rightfully, mourning for all the casualties of the Cole as sailors and heroes."

The other, more conservative view is that the American people’s tolerance for the deaths of female soldiers and sailors has not been put to a full test.

"I suspect this is not yet the crossroads," said Cap Parlier, a retired Marine Corps test pilot.

In the Cole bombing, he noted, "the public never saw bodies, just a big hole in the side of the ship, a number of flag-draped caskets, some names and portrait photographs." He said he believes that the public will react vigorously when it someday sees photographs of "the semi-nude body of a female pilot being dragged through the streets of some Third World country."

Talk to us

More in Local News

Marysville firefighters respond to a 12-year-old boy who fell down a well Tuesday May 30, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Marysville firefighters save boy who fell 20 feet into well

The 12-year-old child held himself up by grabbing on to a plastic pipe while firefighters worked to save him.

Highway 9 is set to be closed in both directions for a week as construction crews build a roundabout at the intersection with Vernon Road. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Weeklong closure coming to Highway 9 section in Lake Stevens

Travelers should expect delays or find another way from Friday to Thursday between Highway 204 and Lundeen Parkway.

Students arriving off the bus get in line to score some waffles during a free pancake and waffle breakfast at Lowell Elementary School on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
800 free pancakes at Everett’s Lowell Elementary feed the masses

The annual breakfast was started to connect the community and the school, as well as to get people to interact.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring speaks at the groundbreaking event for the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$123M project starting on Highway 529 interchange, I-5 HOV lane

A reader wondered why the highway had a lane closure despite not seeing work done. Crews were waiting on the weather.

Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Court: Snohomish County jurors’ opaque masks didn’t taint verdict

During the pandemic, Justin Bell, 32, went on trial for a shooting. Bell claims his right to an impartial jury was violated.

Gary Fontes uprights a tree that fell over in front of The Fontes Manor — a miniature handmade bed and breakfast — on Friday, May 12, 2023, at his home near Silver Lake in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s mini-Frank Lloyd Wright builds neighborhood of extra tiny homes

A tiny lighthouse, a spooky mansion and more: Gary Fontes’ miniature world of architectural wonders is one-twelfth the size of real life.

Will Steffener
Inslee appoints Steffener as Superior Court judge

Attorney Will Steffener will replace Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis, who is retiring in June.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit: Defective inhaler led to death of Mountlake Terrace man

Pharmaceutical company Perrigo recalled inhalers in September 2020. Months earlier, Antonio Fritz Sr. picked one up at a pharmacy.

Steven Eggers listens during his resentencing at Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Life in prison reduced to 38 years for 1995 Skykomish River killing

Steven Eggers, now 46, was 19 when he murdered Blair Scott, 27. New court rulings granted him a second chance at freedom.

Most Read