Remembering the 20th Anniversary of the USS Cole Attack

uss cole
USS Cole departing Aden after the attack (USN)

Published Oct 11, 2020 4:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

Monday, October 12 marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) while she was refueling in Aden, Yemen. 

At 1118 hours, October 12, 2000, a suicide attacker in a small boat carried an explosive charge up to Cole's port side. The blast claimed the lives of 17 sailors and injured another 37, and it tore a 40-by-60 foot hole in the ship’s hull. Over the next 96 hours, the survivors fought flooding to prevent further loss of life and save their severely-damaged ship. They succeeded, and the vessel was shipped back to the United States aboard a heavy-lift ship for repairs. She remains in service today. 

USS Cole returns to the U.S. for repairs after the attack in Yemen (USN)

USS Cole today (USN)

"Twenty years later, it is important to recognize how these acts of bravery and heroism were nothing short of extraordinary. Immediately following the blast and uncertain of the possibility of further explosions, Cole Sailors courageously ran to the scene and rescued severely injured and trapped shipmates, saving them from further injury and probable death," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in an address to the fleet. "The example set by the Cole sailors is clear: a well-trained crew, even after a devastating blow, can rise to the occasion and save their ship."

Gilday called on all Navy servicemembers to hold a moment of silence on Monday in remembrance of the 17 crewmembers who died aboard USS Cole.

After the attack, Yemeni investigators arrested and convicted five suspects, Fahd al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, Maamoun Msouh, Ali Mohamed Saleh and Murad al-Sirouri, describing them as members of terrorist group Al Qaeda. An additional suspect, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, was captured by U.S. forces and transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he remains today. Though al-Nashiri denied affiliation with Al Qaeda, the attack was hailed as a success by (then-living) Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

In 2003, Pakistani forces arrested Saudi national and Al Qaeda member Walid bin Attash on charges that he had helped plan the USS Cole attack. Like al-Nashiri, bin Attash is still in confinement at Guantanamo Bay. 

Heroic namesake

USS Cole is named after Marine Corps Sgt. Darrell Samuel Cole, who died in action during the assault on Iwo Jima. On Feb. 19, 1945, Sgt. Cole led his machine gun section ashore in the assault on Iwo Jima's beaches. One of his squads had hardly reached dry land before their advance was halted by fire from two enemy positions. Cole crawled forward and wiped out the two positions with hand grenades.

Cole's unit continued the advance until they were again halted by fire from three Japanese pillboxes. One of Cole’s machine guns eliminated one position, then jammed. Armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, Cole made a one-man attack against the two remaining positions. Twice he returned to his own lines for additional grenades, and he continued until he destroyed both Japanese strong points. While returning to his own squad, he was killed by an enemy grenade. Sgt. Cole was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.