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Navy Ship Crew Relatives Await Word

October 13, 2000

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ For relatives of sailors aboard the USS Cole, the wait was agonizing.

Denise Overturff of Norfolk knows she’s one of the lucky ones. Her husband, Robert, survived Thursday’s explosion in a Yemeni harbor that killed 17 crew members, including 10 missing and presumed dead. Some 35 others were injured.

Still, her joy over her husband’s survival was tempered by other emotions, Overturff said.

``I’ve been thinking about the other families, and my heart just goes out for their tragedies,″ she told The Associated Press Thursday night.

The 505-foot long, 8,600-ton destroyer is based at the huge naval base in this Virginia port city.

Overturff’s husband has been aboard the ship for about a year.

``They just told me he was A-OK,″ she said with a sigh of relief. ``They’re telling us they don’t know anything else until they assess the damage and figure out what’s what.″

She tried throughout the day Thursday to get through on a hot line promising information to family members. But hundreds of other relatives jammed the lines. Overturff eventually got an answer.

``Making that call was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,″ she said. ``I’m just exhausted.″

Senior Chief Petty Officer John Henderson was in the control room of the ship when the explosion hit, said his wife, Carin, of Chesapeake. All she knows is that he was ``injured, and that he’s in the hospital.″

Henderson left work when she learned of the explosion and watched TV all day. Then she got a call from one of her husband’s former commanding officers.

``Of course, my heart stopped,″ she said. John Henderson, an 18-year Navy veteran, plans to retire after this tour of duty, his wife said.

Virginia Brown of Norfolk was among 150 relatives who came to the Norfolk Naval Station seeking information.

``Frantic, panic″ was how Brown described her mood. ``You pray a lot, cry a lot. Your mind just wanders. You try to picture the ship and picture where your husband can be.″

Leslie Roper, a regional civilian ombudsman for Navy families, said relatives tend to ``come together to try to support each other″ in times of crisis.

City officials also rallied to help the families.

Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim urged the community to show support for the Navy. Among his recommendations was that people attending a concert by country singer Lee Greenwood on Friday night bring candles for a moment of silence.

Navy officials said all next of kin of Cole crew members would be notified about their loved one’s status, and relatives of crew members who were killed would be notified in person.

``I’m just glad I got word over the phone, and not a visit,″ Overturff said.

The scenes of grief and fear were repeated in families across the country.

``I’m just numb. It hasn’t sunk in yet,″ Patty Wibberley, a nursing assistant in Williamsport, Md., whose 19-year-old son, Craig, was among those killed.

In Texas, Marc and Michelle Poston of Austin learned from the Navy that their daughter Keisha Stidham had been injured, but officials had no details on her condition.

They prayed for the best.

Then a photographer showed the couple a news photo of an injured woman in a hospital in Yemen. Her face was covered with bandages, but family members knew it was Stidham.

``I just burst into tears again because of the joy,″ Ms. Poston said.

``We think it’s the power of prayer,″ family friend Holly Bara said. ``It was very comforting _ all we knew was that she was injured.″

____

Relatives hoping to find out information on those aboard the USS Cole can call 800-368-3202.

___

On the Net:

USS Cole: http://www.spear.navy.mil/ships/ddg67

Norfolk Naval Station: http://www.navstanorva.navy.mil

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