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Port-side view showing the damage sustained by the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded on Oct. 12, 2000, during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen.
Port-side view showing the damage sustained by the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded on Oct. 12, 2000, during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen. (U.S. Navy / KRT)
Port-side view showing the damage sustained by the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded on Oct. 12, 2000, during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen.
Port-side view showing the damage sustained by the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded on Oct. 12, 2000, during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen. (U.S. Navy / KRT)
Command Master Chief James Parlier was aboard the USS Cole the day it was attacked.
Command Master Chief James Parlier was aboard the USS Cole the day it was attacked. (U.S. Navy)
Seventeen sailors were killed in the October 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole.
Seventeen sailors were killed in the October 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole. (U.S. Navy)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Command Master Chief James Parlier was forced to decide to let a sailor die.

It was Oct. 12, 2000, he said, aboard the USS Cole. Terrorists had just blown a gaping hole in the ship using a suicide boat. Seventeen sailors died in the attack.

Even though the attack was five years ago, Parlier said the events of that day will always be with him.

Especially the sailor he could not save.

When a rubber boat laden with explosives detonated near the ship’s hull, Parlier said the blast sounded like “an M-80 inside a bucket, but much louder.”

Unaware of what had happened, Parlier, who had extensive experience as a corpsman, began treating wounded sailors.

On his way topside, Parlier said he came across a mortally wounded sailor, whose name he asked not be published out of respect for the man’s family.

Shipmates were standing around the stricken sailor, horrified and unaware of what to do, he said.

Parlier said he and other sailors took a door off its hinges and used it as a stretcher to bring the man on deck.

He said he knew the man was mortally wounded, but he still tried to give him CPR.

Then a chief took him by the shoulder and said there were other people who needed his help who could be saved, Parlier said.

“That’s the first time in my Navy career that I had to let someone die, so I did,” Parlier said. “I made the call. I said last rites. I said a prayer and then we put him on the side somewhere so he wouldn’t be in a position where he was dying in front of the crew and demoralizing the crew.”

What did demoralize the crew was Yemenis celebrating the attack in view of Cole crewmembers for a couple of nights following the attack, Parlier said. They felt the Cole was their trophy, he said.

“Boy, that sticks [with me], seeing all these guys in white outfits jumping up and down, partying music blaring,” he said.

For the Cole’s sailors, it was tough not to retaliate, he said.

The Cole incident was one of a series of terrorist attacks in the 1990s that were not adequately answered by the United States, said Marc Genest, an associate professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College.

“Measured responses against terrorist organizations are seen as a sign of weakness, not strength,” he said.

Genest said the overall lesson from the Cole is that not responding to terrorists’ attacks only emboldens them.

“The time to attack terrorists is at the very beginning of their strategy,” he said.

In the five years since the attack, the Navy has drawn other lessons from the Cole attack:

It has established mobile security forces that set up tight security perimeters around ships.The number of masters at arms, who secure ships, has jumped from about 2,000 to 9,700 since the attack.The Navy and law enforcement now share intelligence on possible terrorist threats.For Sharla Costelow, faith in God has helped her get through the last five years without her husband, Chief Petty Officer Richard D. Costelow, she wrote in an e-mail.

“I often fall back on what many people would say to me … ‘God will never give you more than you can bear,’” she wrote. “There were many days I thought, ‘Yeah, right, what would you know?’ But, the fact is, I can look back and see how true that is, because I have made it through.”

Costelow credits her three sons with keeping her going after the attack and continuing to give her life direction now, she wrote.

“There are still times that it is difficult to deal with the pain of watching my boys grow up without a father,” Costelow wrote. “I know I could have remarried just to give them a father again, but I’d rather do this on my own than to marry for anything other than love.”

She wrote she is proud that the chief’s mess aboard the Cole was renamed after her husband. Her children love visiting the ship because it helps preserve memories of their father and give them a sense of who they are, she wrote.

Despite losing her husband, Costelow still adheres to her faith’s teaching that she should love her enemies, she wrote.

“Hatred makes one bitter and sours the soul,” she wrote. “So, when I think about it, I’m really doing myself a favor by listening to that command..”

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