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.
“He was attracted to the adventure in the Navy,” said his father, Rogelio Santiago, a retired Navy petty officer first class. “He wanted to see the world. He just wanted the experience.”
Duties aboard the Cole for Seaman Craig Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Md., included raising and lowering the destroyer’s small anchor. “He was a good all-American boy,” said the Rev. Anne Weatherbolt, the Wibberley family minister.
“Any time there’s a loss on a small community everybody feels it.” His mother, Patty Wibberley, is a nursing assistant at an assisted-living center. “I’m just numb. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said.
One of Wibberley’s friends, Tyler Growden, 19, said the two liked to fish in the Potomac River. He and others described Craig — who graduated from Washington Technical High School last year — as someone who had no enemies.
Kevin Shawn Rux
Kevin Shawn Rux, 31, of Portland, N.D., was an electronics warfare technician on the Cole, and son of a Navy veteran. “His dad was Navy lifetime, and he was so much like his dad,” said Rux’s aunt, Joy Ust, of Finley, N.D. Ust said most of Rux’s family, including his mother, lives in West Virginia.
Rux joined the Navy after high school, stayed about 10 years, then tried being a policeman, Ust said, but this summer decided to re-enlist in the Navy. Rux was married; his wife lives near where the Cole is based in Norfolk, Va.
Lakiba Nicole Palmer
Seaman Recruit Lakiba Nicole Palmer of San Diego graduated in 1996 from San Diego High, where she was a stalwart on the track team. “She was a hard worker and a dedicated athlete, well-liked by the rest of her teammates,” said Paul Locher, her former coach. Palmer specialized in the sprints and 400-meter relay. “We’re all saddened by this,” Locher said.
Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter
Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class, Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21, of Mechanicsville, Va., was planning to sign up for another tour of duty in January. He was the father of a 2-year-old boy, Noah. Clodfelter graduated from Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville in 1997, and was described as a good student who wrestled and played football. He was an Eagle Scout.
Engineman 2nd Class Marc Nieto, 24, of Fond du Lac, Wis., joined the Navy six years ago and was just two weeks away from finishing his stint in the service. His mother, Sharon Priepke, said Nieto worked in the engine room on the Cole and loved repairing machinery.
“His biggest joy in life was his vehicles, working on the engines. He was always into engines and repairing,” she said. “He had himself a truck and he had himself an ’81 Camaro that he had been working on and rebuilding the engine.”
Ronald Scott Owens
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24, was a native of Vero Beach, Fla., married, with a 4-year-old daughter. He graduated from Vero Beach High in 1994, joined the Navy in 1998 and had just shipped out in August for his first tour.
He e-mailed his wife Wednesday about plans for a weekend vacation to the beach when he returned home in February. “Always at the end of his letters, he said, ‘Keep smiling. I’ll be home soon,“‘ said his wife, Jamie.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Richard Costelow, 35, was from Morrisville, Pa., a blue-collar suburb across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J. His wife and three children had been staying at the Paxtuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park, Md.
“The whole Costelow family, they are wonderful people,” said Antoinette Abel, who grow up across the street from them in Morrisville.