Survivors and relatives of those killed in the deadly attack on the USS Cole in Yemen marked the 11th anniversary of the bombing on Wednesday, weeks before the man accused of planning the attack was set to be arraigned on charges that could carry the death penalty.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 9 at the U.S. military base in Cuba on charges that include murder in violation of the law of war. This would be the first death-penalty war crimes trial for a prisoner at Guantanamo under President Barack Obama.
Obama had pledged to close the detention center but ran into congressional opposition to moving detainees to the U.S.
The attack on the U.S. destroyer occurred while it was in the port of Aden for refueling. The explosion was carried out by suicide bombers in a small boat and put a massive hole into the side of the ship, killing 17 sailors and wounding 37. The youngest fallen sailors were 19. The oldest was 35. They hailed from large Navy towns like San Diego and Norfolk to towns in the heartland like Portland, N.D., and Fond du Lac, Wisc.
In Ennis, Texas, the uncle of bombing victim Timothy Gauna, James Gauna, said by telephone that someone had laid a wreath on his nephew's grave on Wednesday. He said that news touched him because it means that someone other than family still remembers his nephew, who was a 21-year-old information systems technician.
"I still get upset," James Gauna said. "Why so young?"
On the first anniversary of the bombing, about 1,000 people attended the inaugural Norfolk memorial service. On Wednesday, there were about two dozen people.
The Cole's current commanding officer, Cmdr. Andrew Ehlers, said during a rainy ceremony at the Cole's homeport in Norfolk that much has changed since the last time they gathered to honor the victims a year ago. He noted that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was hunted down and killed and that al-Nashiri is being prosecuted. Al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in November 2002.
"Finally, perhaps, justice will be done," he said.
Ehler made the remarks at the Cole memorial at Naval Station Norfolk, where each of the victims' names was read as a bell rang and a wreath was laid at a monument in their honor. About two dozen people who attended the ceremony sought shelter from the rain under the 28 black pine trees at the monument, which symbolize the 17 sailors who lost their lives and the 11 children they left behind.
Ehler pledged that even after justice is served, the Navy will not forget those who died.
"There will be some who will let the memory of Oct. 12, 2000 fade into history. There will be some who will wish to forget this day. We will not," he said. "The sacrifice of those who gave their lives for this country is too great to forget."
For the mother 19-year-old victim James McDaniels of Norfolk, forgetting is not an option.
"For three years I buried body parts. The same kid. So it's not just like someone dying and you try to get over it because each year I'm burying some more of my son,"" said Dianne McDaniels, tearing up. "So it got so I would dread December because that's when they always would come around and say `Oh by the way, we found body parts.' "
McDaniels said she was pleased when she learned that al-Nashiri would finally face charges, but she said she was `jubilant' when she learned that bin Laden had been killed because she felt that justice had finally been served.
"I didn't know I would feel so good because I've been grieving for so long," she said.
"I wish I had been in New York with the other people because I would've gone out of my bed and been walking the streets with them."
Mona Gunn of Virginia Beach, whose 22-year-old son Cherone died from the attack, said she was also thrilled to learn about bin Laden's death.
"He is the mastermind of terrorism. It helped, but there's more than that one guy," she said. "There are more out there and we must always be vigilant to find them."
Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report from Lubbock, Texas.
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