USS Cole Commander Addresses XChange Government Conference

On a refueling mission in the port of Aden, Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, a barge that the crew thought was coming to pick up trash from the USS Cole exploded and crashed into the side of the ship, flooding the two main engine rooms and causing almost overwhelming destruction.

"I was doing routine paperwork when at 11:18 in the morning, there was a thunderous explosion," Lippold said. "A table with coffee and water on it tipped over and spilled. I literally had to come up on the balls of my feet, grabbing the underside of my desk as I watched everything in the room lift up and slam back down."

The damage was extensive. The ship lost power. The water system and generators were knocked out, and soldiers lay wounded. Yemeni authorities helped the USS Cole, taking wounded soldiers to hospitals in Aden and then on to Djibouti, the port the Cole had eschewed because it seemed more dangerous than Aden.

For the next nine days, the ship battled to stay afloat with the American flag flying day and night as teams searched the wreckage and the water for missing soldiers. "I want that flag to fly under lights to show that country we're not going to take it down and lower it until every one of our ship mates is recovered out of the wreckage," Lippold said. That flag now hangs in the mess in the rebuilt USS Cole.

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After two weeks, four tug boats were able to move the ship, and as she sailed Lippold played the Star Spangled Banner for the crew, to remind them of what they'd accomplished and how they had prevailed in the face of terrorism.

When the USS Cole finally sat on a dry dock that had to be submerged nearly 60 feet below the surface of the sea to get the wounded ship aboard, Lippold realized how close his ship had come to the edge as he stared at the 40-by-40 foot hole that the terrorist's barge had left in the side of the destroyer.

"I couldn't be prouder of my crew. I couldn't be prouder of what they'd done," he said.

"It has been my absolute honor to tell you about the story of my heroes today," Lippold said. "They couldn't do it without your support as Americans for what we have to do out there, and its knowing that support is behind us that allows us to do what we have to do out there defending freedom itself."