'Mom . . . I'll be okay. I promise you.'
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000
Sketches of some of the 17 sailors killed or missing after the bomb attack on the USS Cole in Yemen:
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 the Navy. "She's a young African-American woman who was pursuing her career and continuing her education," said her father, Ron Francis. "I'm proud of how we raised her to be a Christian and a lovable person." 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," said the 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 okay. I'll be okay. I promise you,' " Sarah Gauna said.
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 police officer someday, said Brandon Ervin, a former neighbor in Rex. Ervin said Gunn used to babysit 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 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 1st 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 father, Tom Wibberley, said: "It's a terrible thing that people would take human lives the way they did. They took a son away from me." 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, 30, of Portland, N.D., was an electronics warfare technician on the Cole and son of a Navy veteran. "He was career Navy. His dad was career Navy, his uncle was career Navy," said his mother, Saundra Flanagan of Bridgeport, W.Va. "He loved the travel. He used to smile, and he had a twinkle in his eye when he'd tell us about a certain port he'd been in." Rux joined the Navy after high school, stayed about 10 years, then tried being a police officer, but decided a year ago to re-enlist. Rux was married; his wife lives near where the Cole is based in Norfolk, Va.
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.
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."
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. One of teachers and coaches from Morrisville's high school remembered Costelow vividly. "He gave 100 percent every day. That kind of kid doesn't come along too often," said Bernard Derby. Ivan Colon, 35, graduated with Costelow and remembers him as a prankster who wasn't afraid to be the brunt of jokes. "People say there's always a bad side to everyone -- I can't find one in him," Colon said.
Fireman apprentice Patrick Roy, 19, grew up in Keedysville, Md., a town of 500 with a downtown boasting little more than a post office and a church. Roy attended boarding school at the Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., where he captained the lacrosse team, managed the wrestling team and acted in school plays. He enlisted after graduating last year. "He was a nice kid who wanted to serve his country," said Michael Walsh, a family friend. "It was something that he wanted to do. We are trying to take some solace from that."
Engineman fireman Joshua Parlett was also 19 and also from Maryland. He came from the small town of Churchville and joined the Navy last year after graduating from high school. "He believed in what he was doing," said his father, Leroy Parlett.
Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis, 26, of Rockport, Texas, joined the Navy two years ago after four years in the Army. His parents, Gary and Deborah Swenchonis, said he planned to make the Navy his career.
Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19, of Norfolk, Va., was on his first overseas deployment. He planned to stay in the Navy for three years, then use the money he saved to attend college, said his mother, Diane McDaniels. The day before the explosion, he sent an e-mail to his girlfriend, asking her to tell his mother to mail him combat boots to replace his worn-out pair.
Operations specialist 2nd class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32, of Ringgold, Va., was a track and football star at Dan River High School. Principal Carissa Knight remembered him as a kindhearted person involved in a lot of activities. Saunders, a career Navy man, was married and the father of two daughters, ages 10 and 7.
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