MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A sailor from Minnesota didn't expect much excitement when his ship, the USS Cole, steamed into the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12 to refuel.
"It was going to be completely uneventful," said Keith Lorensen, 33, the ship's senior chief petty officer. "We were there to do one thing -- refuel, dump our garbage and get out."
But less than an hour later, everything changed. Two men in a 20-foot boat pulled alongside and detonated a bomb that tore a 40-foot hole through destroyer's steel hull. The blast killed 17 sailors and injured 39, including Lorensen.
"At first, I didn't know I was one of them," said Lorensen, who arrived home in the Twin Cities for the holidays Thursday, one day after his crippled ship returned to the Mississippi shipyard where it was built.
Two months after the terrorist attack on the Cole, Lorensen limped off a plane at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport into the arms of a dozen waiting family members. "It's been a long time," he said with a grin.
He said as the ship steamed into port, security "was heightened exactly the way it is whenever you're in an unfamiliar port," Lorensen said.
He bristled at reports from Navy investigators this week that concluded the Cole's captain and crew failed to take full security precautions when they arrived in Aden.
"Finger-pointing is exactly what that is," he said. "They're looking for a scapegoat now, and that's a shame. We're not the ones making the decision where to refuel. We're told where to go by people in Washington. I stand by my commanding officer and I'll tell that to anyone who asks."
Lorensen and some other chief petty officers were in the mess eating chicken fajitas when the bomb went off.
"I didn't feel or hear anything. For three to five minutes I was unconscious. When I woke up, I could see the space was completely demolished. I was flat on the deck, blown 30 feet from where I was sitting, lodged under a table. When you looked at the destruction, you'd say, hey, no way anyone would make it out of there alive."
Of the dozen sailors in the chiefs' mess, one was killed. The other victims had been in the engine room, mess hall and galley.
In the dark, smoke-choked tangle of the mess, Lorensen could hear shipmates calling to him: "Keith, where are you?"
"Under a table -- I think," he replied.
Initially, he didn't realize that he had been injured. "I figured, let's assess the situation, figure out where the heck we were," Lorensen said. "That's when I noticed a boot next to my head. It turned out to be mine. My right femur was broken, a compound fracture, and my leg was folded all the way under me."
The injured sailors were taken to an Aden hospital, and from there a Yemeni TV crew beamed to the world the first images. One of those images ended up on the cover of Newsweek: Lorensen lying on a hospital bed, one of his clasped hands tethered to an intravenous line.
Lorensen was among injured sailors who were flown to Djibouti, where French surgeons performed initial operations; they were next flown to Germany, where U.S. military surgeons finished the job.
Lorensen's parents and wife flew to Germany to see him at a point where he feared he faced a long hospitalization. "We heard about the memorial service that was going to be held on the 18th (of October), and my wife mentioned to the doctors that it'd be awfully nice for us if we could get home for that." They landed in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 17.
He was discharged from the hospital the next day and went home to Chesapeake, Va. Surrounded by his wife and two young children, he began daily physical therapy. "I'm still walking with a cane, but I'm expecting a full recovery. I'm trying to get back to my crew as often as I can. I'm not ready to give up yet."
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