Sunday, October 15, 2000

Wounded USS Cole sailors
just want to find peace

By Marni McEntee
Kaiserslautern bureau

LANDSTUHL, Germany — The shock is not even close to fading away and the tears are still close to the surface for wounded sailors from the USS Cole.

But three days after a terrorist’s bomb ripped open their ship’s hull in the Arabian peninsula, 39 sailors are safely in the care of doctors and nurses at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Perhaps, at last, the healing can begin.

"They feel one step closer to home by being here," said Col. Elder Granger, the hospital’s commander.

Much of their initial reaction, after arriving on two planes dazed and tired from long flights from Yemen and eastern Africa, was simply that of relief.

"They were relieved to see familiar faces. There was a sense of, ‘OK, we’re finally here,’" said Lt. James Glaspie, a Navy chaplain who has been consoling the injured men and women since they began arriving early Saturday morning.

Those who could walk were visiting shipmates in other hospital rooms, doctors said. Those who couldn’t walk talked to visiting doctors, nurses and Navy personnel.

Others sat together on the edge of hospital beds, talking over the tragedy they had experienced. Many cried when chaplains offered to join them in prayer.

"A lot of interest was expressed in finding out about their shipmates — some of their buddies and friends," said Col. Jim Rundell, deputy commander of clinical services for the hospital.

Many called their wives or husbands and talked to children and other family members.

The good news was that up to 34 of them would be able to go back to Norfolk, Va., as early as Sunday, hospital commander Granger said.

Yet, the taste of tragedy lingered. Several people arrived at Landstuhl with grave injuries and two were breathing with the help of respirators. At least six people were either undergoing surgery or scheduled for it late Saturday afternoon, mostly for seriously broken bones.

And as persistent as thoughts of home are, they can’t forget their 17 shipmates who died when a small boat filled with explosives rammed their ship during a fueling stop.

"Some people feel pretty sad because of the situation; that people beside them had been killed," Glaspie said. "They’re still in denial; still reliving the scenes. They close their eyes and then open them again because they are seeing what happened."

The military has done what it can to take care of its own. The hospital staff has been on alert for 48 hours, waiting for the wounded, receiving them and caring for them. Mental health teams were available to help people cope with what they had seen and a dozen chaplains were dispatched to see to the wounded.

In the meantime, doctors and others who had talked to the sailors said the wounded just wanted to find peace.

"They want to get back to their families and they want to get back to their fellow sailors," Grange said.