The first time Charles Mayer learned about the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen was at boot camp at Navy Station Great Lakes just a few years ago.
“They showed us a video during a damage control training class, and we learned about the incident and what the crew did to save the ship,” said Mayer, a 2014 Connetquot High School graduate serving as a third-class petty officer aboard the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer bombed in a suicide attack in Yemen’s Aden harbor.
“That was the first thing I thought when I received my orders. I said to myself, ‘I learned about this in boot camp.’ After I watched the video, I wanted to go to that ship and coincidentally, USS Cole ended up being my first ship,” added Mayer, an operations specialist responsible for standing watch in the Combat Information Center area of the ship.
The Bohemia native and 2014 Connetquot High School graduate is a third-class petty officer serving aboard USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer bombed in a suicide attack while being refueled in Yemen’s Aden harbor.
Mayer will participate in an Oct. 12 remembrance ceremony on the ship at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The ceremony will honor the 17 U.S. shipmates who lost their lives in service to their country that day.
The attack on the USS Cole was attributed to al-Qaeda suicide bombers, who sailed a small boat near the destroyer and detonated explosive charges. The blast created a hole in the port side of the ship about 40 feet in diameter. Thirty-seven sailors were injured in the attack.
During the memorial ceremony, a 21-gun salute will be fired and taps played to honor and celebrate the fallen service members. A ceremonial wreath, made by USS Cole sailors, will be laid off the port side of the ship in memory of the Cole heroes. The ceremony will end with a bell toll and reading of the names of the 17 heroes whose lives were sacrificed.
“Serving on board Cole is an honor and a privilege,” said Cmdr. Ted Pledger, commanding officer of the USS Cole. “Today’s determined warriors work hard to carry on the inspiring legacy of those who went before us.”
Aboard the USS Cole, there is the “Hall of Heroes” in a passageway along the mess line leading to a memorial that lists the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Seventeen stars are embedded in the blue-speckled deck, representing the sailors killed in the 2000 attack.
“The first time I walked into the combat area on the port side, I saw the photo of Operations Specialist 2nd Class Saunders,” said Mayer, who also helps manage tactical data links aboard the USS Cole in order to maintain integral interoperability within the fleet.
“I asked about the photo and learned he was the only one who had died while in the hospital. Hearing his story and how he died a hero really inspired me,” he said.
Mayer noted how proud he is to be serving aboard the USS Cole.
“There is a strong namesake to the Cole and it makes me feel proud,” he said. “When I wear my ball cap, people always ask me questions about the history of the ship. We’re so busy working every day, but it’s like we’re walking on hallowed ground and sometimes, you just have to take a moment to reflect on what happened.”
Cole is named in honor of U.S. Marines Sgt. Darrell S. Cole, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945.