WATCH: USS Cole — 20 years after deadly Islamic terrorist attack

Twenty years ago, suicide terrorists exploded a small boat alongside the USS Cole—a Navy Destroyer—as it was refueling in a port in Yemen. The blast ripped a 40-by-60 foot hole near the waterline of the Cole, killing 17 American sailors and injuring many more. We recently boarded the USS Cole, still in service, and spoke with Commander Ted Pledger.

Commander Ted Pledger: Almost 20 years ago, we were attacked by terrorists in Yemen while refueling and sustained significant damage. Seventeen sailors died and this ship has seen combat. So that’s what we have to be ready for at the end of the day when we go overseas and we do the nation’s business.

Sharyl: Twenty years ago was there any determination that something should have been done differently, and were there changes made as a result?

Pledger: So a lot’s happened in 20 years. I can say in my experience in 20 years I’ve seen a vast amount of changes throughout the fleet and where we are right now, Cole is ready.

So right here is the scene of the blast. A 40 by 60 foot hole was right here and then down below the water line. So we call this right behind us is the Hall of Heroes. So on October 12th at 11:18 AM the ship was refueling in port in Yemen and chow was going on. So you had sailors lined up here at the mess line getting their lunch. And so this is where we have our 17 stars laid into the deck, to commemorate the 17 sailors that lost their lives and every morning our sailors, they shine these stars up in their honor.

Sharyl: So you said they were standing here, this, these lift up and they get meals here?

Pledger: So this is the galley right in here. So this was really ground zero. So you had the majority of the sailors that were killed and wounded were in the galley and standing right here. And then right below where we are is the general workshop, we had sailors in there that were killed as well. Yeah. This area was completely destroyed.

So in this area, the Hall of Heroes, we take our covers off as a sign of respect and honor of those that lost their lives that day.

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So this is a, this plaque here commemorates our sailors, so these are their names and where they’re from, 17 sailors. And if you go visit the Cole Memorial, which is here on base, this is what it looks like. It’s three slabs, concrete slabs. It’s got their names on there.

But when the blast hit, so you had the hole in the port side over there. The entire deck where we were was just lifted into the overhead. So you had a lot of the sailors that were killed were, they were just literally trapped in there. And then you had sailors in the galley, to rescue them, they had to go in and cut away some of the wreckage or use jaws of life to get them out. Like I said, this is a hallowed ground.

So we call it, this is the Cole cafe. So the mess decks, so we’ve got the flag that was flying you can see it was pretty dirty. You can leave that there. And then this flag, this was draped over the casket of some of the cremains that are committed on December 9th, 2002, just over a year. And then this flag right here, this was flying on July 9, 2006 Cole when she deployed back to the fleet off the coast of Yemen.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that the biggest thing is the fact that a US Navy ship took a hit and we’re back out in the fight. And I think that’s a representation of the tenacity and the resolve of our sailors, of our Navy and our nation. That we don’t stop. That we keep fighting.

Sharyl (on camera): The Navy plans a moment of silence to honor the sailors who died.

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