Times of tragedy familiar to family

Loss: The Parletts, whose son died last year in the attack on the USS Cole, are left with `sheer anger' - and few answers.

October 10, 2001|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Roy Parlett of Churchville was driving down Interstate 95 on his way to work when he heard news on the radio of the attack; his wife, Etta, who was picking up Harford County schoolchildren on her bus route, wouldn't find out until she returned home. It was the beginning of the day that would change their lives forever. But it wasn't Sept. 11, 2001.

It was Oct. 12, 2000, when an explosives-laden skiff pulled alongside the USS Cole in a harbor off Yemen and blasted a hole in its hull, killing 17 sailors, including the Parletts' 19-year-old son, Joshua.

Etta Parlett says the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks was disconcertingly similar. Her husband was again on his way to work when the news broke; she returned from her bus route to a phone call from her mother, urging her to turn on the news right away.

"I felt like I was living the whole thing all over again," she said, sitting in the living room of her Churchville home with her husband, each wearing one of Joshua's dog tags. Roy Parlett said the Sept. 11 attacks, especially when linked to Osama bin Laden, who is also suspected in the Cole blast, left him with "sheer anger."

"I was just totally upset at how [someone] could do this to innocent people," he said. "I can understand the military strike. You can make a little sense of it."

He noted that several past attacks, including the 1996 attack on the Khobar military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, targeted military sites. "It was always military targets they were hitting."

"I'm not sure how to really feel about this," Etta Parlett said of the two most recent terrorist attacks.

She recalled the Cole memorial service in Norfolk, Va., in November when President Bill Clinton spoke. "Clinton got up there and said the attack on the Cole was an act of war, and they would not rest until they caught them."

Then, she said, watching President Bush's speech after the Sept. 11 attacks, "I heard those same words."

"If they'd done something after the Cole," she said, "this never would have happened."

She paused, looking at her husband, then said, "If they'd done something after Khobar towers ... "

"The Cole [explosion] never would have happened," he said, finishing her thought.

The Parletts talked about the Cole attack and its aftermath two days before U.S. airstrikes were launched against Afghanistan. On Monday, the day after, Etta Parlett said she was heartened to see action after Clinton and Bush's warnings to terrorists.

"I'm relieved to see we're not all talk, to be truly honest," she said. "I'm glad to see the United States is showing its hand a little. I'm concerned someone might be hurt, but if we don't do something, we will be hurt again."

Roy Parlett agreed. "I'm pleased, but they didn't do enough. They should've kept on going. ... I just hope they don't quit."

The international support for and latitude offered to the United States as it investigates and retaliates for the Sept. 11 attacks contrasts with the disputes among the FBI, the State Department and the Yemeni government after the Cole incident.

In June, the FBI pulled its investigators out of Yemen. The lack of resolution has only added to the Cole families' frustration.

"They said, `We will not rest until justice is done,'" Roy Parlett said. "I'm totally fed up with the FBI.

"Seventeen lives don't really matter; 6,000 do. Somebody's eyes got opened," he said, by the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Etta Parlett said that as those attacks unfolded, she stayed by the television, upset by watching yet drawn to the news.

"All I could think of was the families and what they will go through," she said. "We've been down that road; we know all those feelings."

Like the interminable waiting, and the hope you can't help but hang on to. After Joshua was reported missing, family and friends from Great Hope Bible Church continued to pray he would be found alive. They joined in an eight-day vigil, until Joshua's body was recovered.

The Parletts later learned from an autopsy report that their son, an engineman fireman, had been near the center of the blast and died instantly from a head wound. "He didn't even hear the explosion," Roy Parlett said.

Joshua was the third generation of Navy men in his family: He, his father and grandfather all served, in different roles, in the same designated destroyer squadron. Joshua had been in the Navy 14 months and was on his first overseas tour.

After Joshua's funeral, his family turned to face the days that just kept coming. "Every month had something special - special days," said Etta Parlett. "It was another hump we had to get over."

Like Father's Day, when 9-year-old Hannah drew a card for her dad, with pictures of her parents, her brother Matthew, 23, sister Kera, 22, herself and an angel she labeled Josh.

Or Joshua's birthday in July, when friends arranged a cake and a quiet party to celebrate the Harford Christian School graduate's life.

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