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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic
Retired USS Cole Sailor remembers fallen shipm
by Kelly Luster, NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support
12 October 2018
MECHANICSBURG, Pa. --
"Before there was a 9-11, there was a 10-12,” said Joe Pelly, a retired Navy senior chief petty officer who now works at NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support. Pelly is a Logistics Element Manager (LEM) in the Littoral Combat Ship Integrated Weapon Systems Team (LCS IWST).
It has been 18 years since terrorists attacked the USS Cole (DDG-67), and Pelly thinks about it every day. “We have a responsibility to ensure the Sailors who perished that day are never forgotten,” he explained.
For Pelly, Oct. 12, 2000, started out like any other day. The USS Cole was in port at Aden, Yemen, for a fuel stop. Sailors were going about their daily duties, and Pelly was attending a meeting in the aft section of the ship. At around 11:18 a.m., that all changed.
“We felt the entire ship raise up out of the water, list to one side and slam back down,” said Pelly. “Immediately, we knew something wasn’t right. We thought perhaps the fuel dolphin had blown.” A “fueling dolphin" is a facility in the middle of the harbor connected by pipelines to shore. The dolphin allows ships to take on fuel quickly, without having to dock. “But as we moved forward in the ship, we saw wounded Sailors,’” said Pelly.
After providing first aid, and as many military members do, Pelly ran toward the danger rather than retreating. “On a ship, everyone is trained to work on damage control. We have to do everything we can to ensure we don’t lose the her [the ship],” he said. As he moved forward, Pelly heard a group of Sailors report seeing a 10-foot hole where the explosion happened. As Pelly and his team arrived, they found a completely different situation.
“By the time I got to the area, the smoke cleared and we had a better view of the damage,” said Pelly. “We found a 60-foot wide by 40-foot high hole ripped into the side of the ship.” Pelly and his team began searching for injured shipmates.
“We found one of our shipmates pinned between an oven and refrigerator,” said Pelly. “My team worked to get her free and moved out for medical care and continued to search.” As the team moved through the galley and searched the areas they could access, they discovered a number of Sailors who perished in the explosion. Moving topside, what happened became brutally apparent to Pelly as a surreal situation unfolded. Alarms blared as scores of wounded Sailors being tended to and the medical crew, emergency teams and firefighters were mounting an attack of the gaping hole and leaders were darting in all directions accounting for personnel.
“Once we were on the main deck, we got a view of the scope of what happened,” said Pelly. “But we continued to focus on what we needed to do—accounting for our shipmates, evacuating casualties, and ensuring we didn’t lose her [the ship].”
Over the next several hours and days, help arrived and efforts continued to repair the damaged areas. Approximately two weeks after the attack, the ship was moved out of the port to meet the Blue Marlin, the ship that ships ships. The 712-foot long barge raised the 8,000 ton, 505-foot long USS Cole out of the water and transported her to Pascagoula, Mississippi where she would remain for approximately 2 years undergoing repairs.
As the investigation got underway, it was discovered that terrorists, under the guise of a small vessel being used to remove trash from the Cole, came alongside the Cole then abruptly turned toward and rammed the destroyer’s port side, detonating 700 pounds of C-4 explosive.
According to Pelly, he lost part of his extended family that day. “When you’re on a ship, you become very close with your shipmates,” he said. “These men and women become your extended family. I think about them every day.”
While he still thinks about that day and the friends he lost, Pelly admits it was quite some time before he spoke about it. “About three or four years ago, I was talking to a young Sailor and mentioned the Cole,” Pelly said. “They had no idea what I was talking about. From that point on, I have made a point of telling everyone who will listen what happened that day.” Pelly said he owes it to his extended family, his shipmates and the Gold Star Families who lost loved ones that day to never let anyone forget the sacrifice the Sailors made aboard USS Cole.
“It’s also about justice,” said Pelly. “If we stop talking about it, people forget. We can’t let them forget, especially since the man accused of being the mastermind behind the attack has not yet stood trial.” Pelly said Al-Nashiri was captured and is awaiting trial by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “The families and victims deserve justice, and I have faith it will come.”
Pelly, who has traveled to Cuba to testify 17 times, said that as long as he is able and until there is justice, he will continue to go and offer testimony. He said “…when the trial is long over and justice served he will continue to tell people what happened that day when 17 of his shipmates paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
“There’s a saying the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., live by,” said Pelly. “Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb Guards never forget. I feel the same about my shipmates. I will never forget.”
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