(Lori Piotrowski) – More than 200 listened attentively to the story that riveted the nation’s attention on October 12, 2000. Just 11 months before the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and UA #93, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked while refueling in port of Aden, Yemen.
Kirk Lippold was commander of the Cole, and he was speaking to the Southern Hills Republican Women’s September luncheon crowd. Lippold brought along some slides to show of the ship, giving attendees a close view of the enormity of the explosion to a U.S. battleship.
He began lightheartedly, explaining the difference between port and starboard (left and right), decks (floors), overheads (ceilings), passageways (hallways), and explained that the pointy thing in front was the stern. Someone asked if the Cole had a basement, to which he replied, “Yes, we do. The bilge!”
The room grew quiet again as he related the day’s events, which culminated in 17 dead, and many more wounded. The blast tore through 25 feet into the interior of the ship, damaging multiple levels and work and living spaces.
He and his crew worked tirelessly to retrieve the wounded and the deceased. And when they finally had accounted for each crew member, they lowered the flag on the deck and ceremoniously rang the bell twice for each fallen sailor.
Lippold explained the need for leadership in such an event. “Much leadership comes from training your people ahead of time. When a crisis situation arises, everyone needs to react quickly and decisively. When I saw that my crew was doing what they had been trained to do, I was able to attend to my own duties.
One slide was a beautiful view of a few buildings looking out onto the harbor. Lippold’s description of this slide quickly turned the harbor vista sour—the view was that from an Al Qaeda outpost where terrorists had planned the attack for more than a year.
As the Cole was towed out of Aden harbor, he allowed his crew to play music on the deck, hooking up the tape deck to the ship’s loudspeakers for all to hear.
“The first song we played,” Lippold said, “was the Star-Spangled Banner. And everyone in the port heard that we were leaving with our heads held high.”
As the U.S.S. Cole left port, “seamen from surrounding vessels stood on their ships’ decks to give us honors,” Lippold explained. “We returned honors, and then we played another song.”
“The second song we played was the national anthem. Only this time, it was the Jimi Hendrix version!”
“After that, I left the deck, but I heard the worst music—if you can call it music! I asked my executive officer to get that music off. It was horrible. But it took so long for him to get back on deck, that the song was almost over, and I decided to just let them play it.”
When the officer returned, Lippold asked him what the song was. “American Badass, sir!”
Kid Rock’s song was the last the Gulf of Aden heard of the departing U.S.S. Cole. But Kid Rock, learning of the incident, would return the favor. He later performed a benefit concert in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised $75,000 for the Cole fund.