Cole makes somber return to Norfolk

Navy: A wounded warship returns home to a greeting from families grieving for those who died aboard it.

April 28, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NORFOLK, Va. - It was the homecoming that the murdered Cole sailors and their families never got.

As a cold, driving rain let up about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, an anxious crowd of widows, Cole survivors and their families sought to emerge from their own personal clouds.

Some sobbed, some smiled, some just stared.

"I felt myself just screaming his name," said Olivia Rux, whose husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Rux, was among the 17 who died in the Oct. 12, 2000, attack in Yemen.

"I feel like their souls are back now, that their souls are here," Rux said. "It's complete."

At pierside, an orange snow fence separated grieving families and wounded Cole crew members from a new set of Cole families. These were families of the replacement crew, and they cheered their sailors standing at the destroyer's rail in dress whites.

But Petty Officer 1st Class Isadore "Bernard" Sims stood just on the grieving side of the fence. Now stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, Sims was in the Cole's galley when a bomb-laden skiff crushed the mess hall like an aluminum can and tore the muscles in his back.

"It's finally back," said Sims, eyeing the vessel's port side, where the blast ripped a gaping hole 18 months ago. "I would have rather rode it back, but just to see it back in action is good."

Former Cole crew members and the survivors of those slain have grown close since the bombing. Together once again, they stood side by side on Pier 4 as the ship returned. Together, they boarded the Cole, toured the new mess hall and the "Hall of Heroes," the passageway where many of the victims died. It's also where their names are listed to remind future crews of their honored existence.

However, some family members skipped the tour, which reduced many of those who took it to tears.

Others, like Louge Gunn, who lost his son, Seaman Recruit Cherone Gunn, in the attack, had to brace themselves with deep breaths and contemplation before boarding.

Cherone's brother, Jason Gunn, simply stared at the mists over the Elizabeth River and looked back to the summer of 2000. Cherone had moved back to Norfolk from Atlanta in May, and the brothers - best friends - spent that whole summer together.

It was eerie to be back at the pier, Jason Gunn said, because all summer long he had driven his brother to and from the pier for duty aboard the Cole before its fateful deployment.

"In my heart, I feel that he's not here," he said. "I'm not going to have closure until I can be with him again, and that's not going to be for a long time. This helps, but it also hurts."

Louge Gunn, for his part, stood on the pier 45 minutes after most family members had boarded the Cole. He seemed crestfallen.

"I can't even go on," he said, holding a large umbrella to ward off the drenching rain. "I'm waiting for some family to come off. I'm only here for support. I am not here to celebrate. I have nothing to celebrate."

Another 30 minutes later, Gunn gathered some courage.

"I finally went on for 15 minutes," he said.

"I don't feel no better."

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