It was Thursday, 12 October 2000—the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday—when a small boat approached the USS Cole (DDG-67) in Aden Harbor. Waving to the crew on the main deck of the destroyer, the fanatics in the boat steered into the ship’s port side, amidships. Powerful explosives detonated with great force, tearing a 40- by-40-foot hole in the destroyer’s side, smashing in bulkheads and tearing deck plating as though it were made of paper. Smoke filled her passageways, water poured into many of her spaces, and dozens of the Cole’s crew were killed or injured in the blast.
As images of the gaping hole in the Cole’s side flashed around the world, most who saw it were shocked, although some of America’s enemies certainly rejoiced. But few understood that this ship was in danger of being lost. Images of a damaged naval vessel were bad enough, but a sunken ship would have been far worse, encouraging America’s enemies all the more and possibly shaking the faith of some who looked to the United States for strength and encouragement.