Before 9-11, there was 10-12. On this dark day, one year ago, a bomb ripped through the USS Cole -- and tore apart the lives of 17 American families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack. The Cole, a guided missile destroyer sent to enforce the United Nations embargo on Iraq, had been refueling at the Yemeni port of Aden when a pair of suicide bombers rammed their explosive-packed skiff into the American ship.
A year later, the Cole crewmembers and their families have been largely forgotten. Despite former President Clinton's swaggering promise to track down the attackers ("We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.") not a single suspect has answered for the despicable murders on Oct. 12, 2000. Yemen -- long a safe haven for terrorists -- refuses to cooperate with our Federal Bureau of Investigation. Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind both the 10-12 and 9-11 attacks, continues to breathe free while American widows grieve.
One of those young widows is Sharla Costelow. Her husband, Richard, a chief petty officer on the Cole, died while lunching in the chief's mess when the explosion hit. A communications technology whiz, he had been promoted at sea a month before the attack. In a paper he wrote during his Chief's initiation process, Costelow reflected on his new responsibilities: "To instill excellence in today's generation is a tough job. A Chief must be ready for the challenges that this job creates. I will be ready. I have to be. The future of the Navy depends on it. I will not sit back and take it easy. I will strive for excellence in all that I do."
Chief Costelow -- 35, dedicated to the defense of his country, and devoted to his family -- now lies buried in a field of fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
"There are still days when I get depressed, and angry, and can't stop crying," Mrs. Costelow told me in a phone interview earlier this week. The pain, she said, "didn't end with the death of my husband. It's part of our daily lives." She preserves the memory of her husband and the Cole by maintaining a Web site and writing letters to Congress -- which have been ignored.
The great Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Shame on those government officials who refuse to hear the Cole families' pleas for answers -- and accountability. "It's been swept under the rug," Mrs. Costelow noted. But she won't be silenced. She supports the current action in Afghanistan against bin Laden, but she is upset that "so many people had to die because of these terrorists. I feel strongly that our government at the time of the Cole attack was totally negligent."
Mrs. Costelow wants to write a book about her experience, but in the meantime, her children (Dillon, 14, Brady, 6, and Ethan, 4) keep her going -- along with her religious faith. On her Web site memorial to her husband, Mrs. Costelow posted an image of an eagle along with a scriptural passage that inspires her: "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary (Isaiah 40:31)."
The most difficult thing to deal with, Mrs. Costelow said, is the irreplaceable loss suffered by her boys. "The love of their father, the look in his eyes, the feeling from his heart -- they won't ever have that again." Her youngest son, Ethan, still has trouble sleeping sometimes because "he's afraid the bad guys will come and get him like they got his dad."
Never forget Ethan Costelow's fear. Never forget his father's bravery and his mother's grief. This is why we are at war with the evil forces of terrorism. This is why we must win.
Contributions to the Costelow children's memorial trust fund may be sent to: Memorial Fund, NFCU-Costelow Family, Patuxent River MSC, 22598 MacArthur Blvd., California, Md. 20619.