Some were still teenagers. Two were young women. Several had fathers who preceded them in serving their country. Most grew up in small or midsize towns and joined the Navy with adventure as well as duty in mind.
On Thursday, 7 sailors died and 10 more were missing and presumed dead when a suspected terrorist bomb tore through the hull of the destroyer USS Cole during a refueling stop in Yemen.
One of the victims, Cherone Gunn, aspired to be a policeman and saw the Navy as a steppingstone. Another sailor, Kevin Rux, actually tried police work after 10 years in the Navy, but reconsidered — and re-enlisted last summer.
Sharon Priepke of Fond du Lac., Wis. — whose son, 24-year-old Marc Nieto, was among the dead — probably spoke for all the grieving families.
“He had goals to the sky and he was going to achieve those goals,” she said, clutching some of her son’s commendations. “He was just starting to live his life.”
A brief look at some of the dead and missing:
Lakeina Monique Francis
Lakeina Monique Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, N.C., a mess management specialist aboard the Cole, graduated from high school last year and followed her father into a military career. “The family is taking it real hard,” said the Rev. Willie Gray, a neighbor.
Two of Francis’ brothers, James and David, play football at West Rowan High School. “We’re just going to work with the boys, help them through the day, do whatever the mom and dad would like us to help them through this,” said the school principal, Henry Kluttz.
Information Systems Technician Tim Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas, was a 1997 graduate of Ennis High School. 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 as the Cole 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.
Cherone Louis Gunn
Signalman Seaman Recruit Cherone Louis Gunn, 22, grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., but lived with an aunt and uncle in Rex, Ga., in recent years. He enrolled in the Navy in January because he wanted to be a policeman someday, said Brandon Ervin, a former neighbor in Rex. Ervin said Gunn used to baby-sit for his children. “Most guys his age, their thing is to go out and party, not to give their time to anyone else,” Ervin said. “To see a guy like him be able to share his time with children, that was really great.”
Ensign Andrew Triplett from Macon, Miss., had been in the Navy for 13 years. “He was a good family man. He had two children and he was just a likable person,” said his mother, Savannah Triplett, a cook at C&K Super Stop in the small Mississippi town of Shuqualak.
“He just loved the Navy. That’s all he used to talk about.” Triplett, who will be buried in Norfolk, Va., where he lived with his wife, Laurie, of Detroit, and their children.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronchester Santiago, 22, of Kingsville, Texas, had been in the Navy since graduating in 1996 from H.M. King High School. He was scheduled to get out of the service in December and planned to study electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.