The Navy today released the names of the seven Americans killed and 10 others missing and presumed dead after the explosion on the USS Cole in Yemen on Thursday.
Two of the victims were women, making it the first time a female sailor has been killed in hostile action aboard a U.S. combat ship since women began serving aboard them in 1994.
The deceased and several injured arrived today at the U.S. military facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, while three others remained at a hospital in the East African republic of Djibouti, said Adm. Robert Natter of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Coffins draped with American flags and carried by an honor guard, were being removed from military aircraft during a solemn ceremony this afternoon.
In Norfolk today, the Navy said it had reached everyone who was directly related to the dead and wounded. But calls were still flooding the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
“We have 14 telephone lines being answered right now,” said Catherine Stokoe, director of family services at the base. “They’ve been very busy. Yesterday we had over 1,000 calls.”
The sailors remaining on the ship have been urged to contact their own relatives as soon as possible, Natter said.
“If they are well enough to return home, they will do that. If they are well enough to return to duty, they will do that. If others have to remain in Ramstein for further treatment, we will be working with the families, loved ones, for their transportation over to join them,” Natter said at a morning news conference at the Cole’s home port of Norfolk, Va.
Casualties of Terrorism
Among those killed was Craig Wibberley of Williamsport, Md., a 19-year-old who had enlisted in the Navy three months before graduating from high school. He had been in the habit of sending daily e-mails to his parents from the ship, his mother, Patty, told their local paper, The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md.
Mrs. Wibberley said her son wasn’t sure he wanted to do with his life until he enlisted, and then he looked forward to studying radio electronics. He bought a laptop computer and was teaching himself Spanish, she told the paper. On board the ship, his job was lowering the destroyer’s small anchor.
Information Systems Technician Tim Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas, was a 1997 graduate of Ennis High School, where teachers said he was a quiet student who excelled in baseball and art. In 1999, he joined the Navy as a radio man.
“He went there to better himself, to make a better life for himself,” said his mother, Sarah Gauna. The family last heard from Gauna by phone a few days ago from the Cole as it headed for a secret destination. “He just kept saying, ‘We’re in dangerous waters, Mom, but we’re OK. I’ll be OK. I promise you,’” Sarah Gauna said.
Ensign Andrew Triplett, from the small Mississippi town of Shuqualak, had been in the Navy for 13 years. “He was a good person. He was one of the best that I know of,” said his mother, Savannah Triplett, a cook at C&K Super Stop in Shuqualak.
She said her son was a strong student who excelled on Navy tests. Triplett, who will be buried in Norfolk, Va., is survived by his wife, Laurie, of Detroit, whom he met while in the Navy, and two children.
The USS Cole was the target of a likely terrorist attack as it was docked at the port city of Aden, Yemen. Seven sailors were confirmed killed in the attack, 10 are missing and presumed dead, and 38 were injured.
The Norfolk, Va.-based ship had docked in Aden for a refueling stop when, Pentagon officials say, a small boat full of explosives blew up in a well-planned terrorist attack that tore a hole in the side of the destroyer.
Navy Support Group
The families who have heard the all-clear are relieved.
Cindy Isbell of Cheney, Wash., said waiting to hear the fate of her son, crewman David Isbell, was a frightful experience.
“It was scary, just sitting on the edge of the seat … wondering if he was OK or not,” she said.
“We are extremely pleased to hear that he wasn’t among those that were injured, killed or missing. Our hearts go out to those that, unfortunately, were on that list,” Isbell said.
Robert Rueckert of Beaver Creek, Wis., said his 19-year-old brother, David, survived the incident and is doing fine.
They’re “still doing damage control. They’ve gotta secure the ship and make sure all the systems are functioning and check everything over and all that. And then after that, probably just, you know, walk around looking at the damage,” Rueckert said.
At the Norfolk base, the mood has been tense and somber. As families watch news reports and images of injured sailors — and the 40-foot hole left in the Cole — Navy chaplains stand ready to offer consolation and prayers.
“The Navy has just pulled around all these families,” said Cathy Stokoe, director of the Navy Family Service Center. “It’s just not the Cole family; it is a Navy family. There are people that are very quiet, and there are people that are very upset … but everyone is just waiting.”
Norfolk Navy officials said they wanted to give families a central location to find information and seek counsel and support. Family members can call the Cole’s family support office at (757) 444-NAVY or (800) 372-5463.
“We’re offering the families a place to gather here in Norfolk where we can provide for them in a single location legal help, chaplains’ assistance,” Adm. John Foley of the Atlantic Fleet said. “The center will be open on a 24-7 basis. Anytime anyone has a problem from the Cole families they can go to a central location to talk to whoever they need to talk to.”
The Hampton Roads Council of the Navy League has established a USS Cole Support Fund to help personnel of the USS Cole and their families “in their greatest hour of need.”
Contribution checks can be sent to the Navy League/USS Cole Support Fund in care of Hampton Roads Council, Navy League of the U.S., 770 Lynnhaven Parkway, Suite 115, Virginia Beach, Va. 23452.
ABCNEWS’ Ann Compton, Julia Campbell, Amy Collins, Bryan Robinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.