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Somber Mood Pervades Cole Memorial

October 18, 2000

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ Tammy Castro came to Norfolk Naval Station on Wednesday with 17 red, white and blue carnations _ one for each of the sailors killed in last week’s terrorist attack on the USS Cole.

Castro didn’t know any of the crew or their families. But her husband is in the Navy and she knew all too well that she could easily have been one of the grieving widows seated before a mournful president.

``We’re an extended family,″ said Castro, who was among thousands gathered under gray skies for a memorial to the Cole’s dead. ``When something like this happens, it happens to all of us.″

Sailors in crisp, white uniforms stood shoulder to shoulder on the decks behind President Clinton as he and other national figures honored the dead and praised the 36 injured by the attack in Yemen.

Grieving family members, many with buttons bearing color portraits of their loved ones, dabbed red-rimmed eyes with tissues as speaker after speaker promised swift retribution. The Norfolk, with a crew of nearly 300, is based here.

The crowd broke into applause as seven wounded sailors were carried from Navy ambulances to a place of honor before the president’s blue-draped dais. Watching from wheelchairs and stretchers, with casts on their legs and IVs connected for medication, they sat stiffly in their dress whites.

Army Col. Olin E. Saunders shook hands with one of the injured sailors and talked with him about his dead cousin, Spc. Timothy L. Saunders. The colonel said he wanted to tell the injured and grieving that their sacrifices were not in vain.

``There’s a message here _ a big message,″ Saunders said. ``What we as a nation have to do to prevent this type of thing in the first place.″

Caulbert Taylor took little comfort in the service. He still hasn’t come to grips with the way his nephew, Seaman Apprentice Cherone Gunn, and his shipmates died.

``I don’t think he expected to go that way,″ said Taylor, whose shirt bore a picture of a smiling Gunn shortly after his graduation from boot camp. ``In combat, maybe. That’s not the way for a man to go in the military. He’d expect to have a chance to defend himself.″

Scores of people showed up at Pier 12 three hours before the service, including Jacqueline Blake, who sat in the rain in a canvas American-flag jacket. Her husband, shipfitter Roy Blake, is in the Persian Gulf on the carrier USS George Washington, the lead ship in the Cole’s battle group.

She hasn’t heard from her husband in two weeks.

``When you see your husband depart and go away for six months, you really take a lot for granted,″ said Jacqueline Blake, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. ``It’s the price we pay for our freedom.″

Following Clinton’s remarks and a final prayer, a lone bugler played taps from the bow of the USS McFaul.

As Clinton worked his way through the crowd of Cole family members, one woman began screaming uncontrollably. Operations Specialist 1st Class Milton Boynes, who left the Cole two weeks before the attack, brought the woman tissues.

``I don’t know that words can help anybody at a time like this,″ the bewildered sailor said.

As mourners boarded buses following the service, they filed past a huge wreath. Written in gold on the sash were the words: ``In memory of our shipmates, from the officers and crew of the USS Cole.″ In the Chesapeake Bay, beneath the bow of the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, floating toward the sea, were 17 red, white and blue carnations.

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On the Net:

Navy site: http://www.navy.mil

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Allen G. Breed is the AP’s Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.

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