NORFOLK, Va. -- In the chaotic aftermath of the terrorist bombing that crippled the USS Cole and killed 17 crew members, its sailors worked frantically to save their wounded shipmates and prevent the Navy destroyer from sinking.
On Wednesday, many of those sailors were honored for their bravery.
"Better than getting the awards, it's great to see everyone again," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Will Merchen of Rapid City, S.D., who had helped reach several shipmates trapped within the wreckage.
Merchen, given the Meritorious Service Medal, was among 107 sailors honored with awards during the ceremony at Norfolk Naval Station. The Cole's entire 317-member crew received a combat action ribbon and a Navy unit commendation for exceptionally meritorious service.
In all, 154 awards will be given to 149 people, including Purple Heart Medals to the 37 sailors who were hurt in the Oct. 12 attack by a skiff that pulled alongside the Cole as it refueled in Yemen's port of Aden and detonated explosives.
The families of the 17 sailors killed have already received the Purple Heart Medals.
"We should count ourselves lucky to have people of this caliber serving our Navy and our country," said Rear Adm. John B. Foley III, commander of the Naval Surface Force Atlantic.
Docked at Norfolk Naval Station during the outdoor ceremony were the first two U.S. warships to reach the Cole after the explosion, the destroyer USS Donald Cook and the guided-missile frigate USS Hawes.
Petty Officer Sarah Gomez of San Antonio recalled spending several frenzied hours working to restore communications aboard the ship, which lost electricity after the attack.
"We were just praying that somebody out there knew what had happened to us. It was a scary experience," said Gomez, who received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Wednesday's ceremony was closed to the general public because of increased security at the base since the bombing.
On Monday, FBI and State Department investigators returned to Yemen to finish their probe. The FBI had withdrawn its investigators in June because of a security threat. The U.S. Embassy there also closed, and eight people were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to attack the embassy. The embassy reopened in July.
The Cole is undergoing $240 million in repairs and is expected to return to its home port of Norfolk in April.
On the Net:
Ship information: http://www.spear.navy.mil/ships/ddg67
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