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Clinton hails fallen patriots

October 18, 2000

Clinton hails fallen patriots



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


NORFOLK, Va. - Against a backdrop of somber gray skies and steely gray warships, two Washington County families listened to President Clinton Wednesday morning try to give meaning to their loss.

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"Today we honor our finest young people, the fallen soldiers who rose to freedom's challenge. We mourn their loss," Clinton told the families of the 17 seamen who were killed in Thursday's attack on the USS Cole.

The immediate families of Fireman Apprentice Patrick Howard Roy, 19, of Keedysville, and Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, arrived with Navy escorts on Pier 12 of Norfolk Naval Station just before the president.

The families were seated front and center at the ceremony, surrounded by hundreds who had already gathered, including the 39 sailors injured on the USS Cole and their families and friends. Many in the crowd wore gold and blue ribbons.

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"We are mindful of the limits of our poor words to lift spirits and warm hearts. We know we will never know them as you did or remember them as well," Clinton said.

Sailors lined the tall decks of the Cole's sister ships, the USS McFaul and the USS Ross and the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower.

Clinton talked about the sacrifice that Roy, Wibberley and the other sailors made for the cause of freedom.

"They have given us their deaths. Let us give them their meaning - of peace and freedom, of reconciliation and love, of endurance and hope. After all they have given us, we must give them their meaning," Clinton said.

One by one, Clinton read the names of those who were killed.

He read the last name, Craig Bryan Wibberley. Craig's older sister, Toni Wibberley, leaned forward and a tear fell from her face.

After the ceremony, two of Craig's friends, Laura Wishard, 18, and Seth Vancour, 20, found each other in the crowd and hugged.

"Why?" she cried. "I don't understand."

About 20 of Wibberley's friends drove in the middle of the night to make it to the ceremony, Vancour said. Asked why he came, he answered, "Because we love him."

"I can't stop thinking about him. It's too hard," said Vancour, who met while the two were students at Williamsport High School.

Also there was Tyler Growden, 19, of Williamsport, who left after he got off work from Tristate Electric at 1 a.m.

Aaron Wibberley, 26, of Baltimore, said he's "very proud" of his cousin Craig for "serving our country and protecting us."

Before the ceremony, Clinton spoke to all the families privately.

Wibberley and Roy enlisted just six days apart. Wibberley on July 22, 1999 in Baltimore. Roy on July 28 in Albany, N.Y.

They weren't friends before they joined the military, but they became shipmates.

They were lining up for lunch in the mess hall when Thursday's explosion, rigged by terrorists, came suddenly and unexpectedly.

The attack will not stop the United States from seeking peace in the Middle East, said Clinton, who issued a warning for the terrorists who rigged the explosion.

"You will not find a safe harbor. We will find you and justice will prevail," he said.

Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Defense Secretary William Cohen also addressed the perpetrators.

"You are on notice that our search for you will be relentless," said Cohen, who called the attack "an act of pure evil."

"America's memory is long and our reach is even longer," Danzig said.

Unlike some countries, which treat their people like fodder for war, America loves and remembers the 17 who died, Danzig said.

"We grieve because we couldn't protect them. Instead, they died protecting us," Danzig said.

Danzig commended the 240 crew members of the USS Cole who went on to save the listing ship after watching their shipmates hurt and dying.

Two days later, when the ship's generators failed, they manned bucket brigades to bail the ship by hand, he said.

The injured sailors arrived at the ceremony in Naval Medical Center buses and ambulances. Five were on gurneys.

Sailors handed out bottles of water and boxes of tissues to the families.

Dozens of elected officials attended but did not speak, including Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.

Wednesday's ceremony began in silence. The only noise in the crowd of about 5,000 was a low hum from the surrounding ships' generators.

Eight bells sounded and the hundreds of sailors in bright white saluted the arriving president.

The Sea Chanters, the Navy choir, sang the National Anthem.

"Today we are reminded that freedom is not free and the price we sometimes must pay is excruciatingly high," said Rear Admiral Barry C. Black, the Navy's chief of chaplains.

Black quoted the 23rd Psalm and told the grieving to seek comfort in God.

Navy officials then spoke about their feelings of loss.

"This is one of those times when shock and anger, then respect, great appreciation, then emptiness and then sadness, all of these emotions, these feelings are felt in such a profound way that we find ourselves searching for the right words," said Admiral Vern E. Clark, chief of Naval operations.

The loss is felt by everyone in the Navy, he said.

"They remind us what it really means to go in harms way," he said.

Clark shared an e-mail one of the fallen sailors had recently written: "Mom, we're in dangerous waters, but I'm OK."

"There was trepidation in those words, but there was also a lot of faith. The men and women of the Cole understood they were heading into harm's way. They also knew what they were doing was very important," Clark said.

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