Even getting down to the ground didn't help, he continued. When he felt his way to where the door should have been, it was blocked. The galley exit was obstructed as well. Along with several injured, dead and dying chiefs, Abney was trapped. He and a shipmate began banging on the bulkhead, hoping, praying someone would hear them before they all suffocated from the smoke.
"I had a crew member grab me by the right arm in a death grip and said, 'Master Chief, you've got to help me. I'm dying,'" remembered Abney. "I ended up stepping on one of the other crew members. ... It was pitch black and it was basically feeling my way around."
After one of the Sailors cut into the mess and freed the chiefs, Abney went looking for help for his shipmates. He was stunned at the destruction he found throughout the ship. "The deck came up and was pushed all the way into the bulkhead. ... There were people that were crushed up against this bulkhead.
"There were people that were still trapped in the machinery, caught in various different things. ... There were two shipmates that were triaged and were laying in the (passageway). One, I think was already deceased and the second was struggling for breath and later did not make it. ... Just to see this crew member struggling for breath and the amount of trauma that it took to put his eye out of socket, it really hit me then that we were in bad shape."
Parlier was hard at work triaging the patients. He had missed the blast's epicenter by minutes. Had he been in his office, instead of in a meeting, he would most likely have been killed instantly. With the electricity out on most of the ship, and the phones dead, Parlier wasn't initially sure if the Cole's
regular doc was alive. He quickly provided some battlefield training to crew members on how to move the wounded - there weren't enough accessible stretchers - and how to provide some rudimentary medical care. There were a lot of shrapnel wounds, broken bones, blast injuries.
One 19-year-old Sailor, Parlier remembered, "was in horrific condition. The crew didn't know what to do with him. We put him on a door, basically, and put him back out aft. We took him out on the fantail on the flight deck. ... I tried to do CPR on him, but he was ... in really, really bad shape. He was the first guy I've ever lost in my life, and I had to make a call because we had over 25 casualties on the fantail and flight deck alone, people screaming." Ultimately, 17 Sailors died. Most were in the chiefs mess with Abney or in the galley, lined up for chow.
With the assistance of the U.S. ambassador and some local authorities, corpsmen managed to evacuate the seriously wounded to a Yemeni hospital within that critical first hour. Able-bodied Sailors accompanied them as walking blood banks and body guards. American doctors in country on a mission trip also rushed to the hospital, which Parlier said was crucial in saving lives. From there, wounded Sailors were life-flighted to Navy hospitals in Djibouti and Sigonella, Italy, before receiving more complex treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Many of the deceased Sailors remained on the ship, however, inaccessible and officially classified as missing. (The Navy would continue recovering remains for years following the attack.) In temperatures that climbed well above 100 degrees, their bodies quickly decayed, making the situation unbearable for the Sailors left aboard the ship. The stench, exacerbated by rotting food, was choking, while flies swarmed the ship. Still worse was knowing that shipmates and good friends - in one case a fiance - lay trapped below and no one could do anything.
It's not like being on a carrier. When you're on a small boy, you know almost everybody on the ship. ... These crew members were like your kids. It was pretty devastating. ... It would be like someone bombing your home. You worked with these kids every day. The Navy environment isn't like any other work environment. ... You're eating three meals a day with these folks. ... Twenty four hours a day, you're running across the same people, and you kind of get to know their different quirks and personalities and what makes them tick." - STCM Paul Abney
In those first terrible days after the attack, as they fought to keep the Cole
afloat, shutting down sections of the ship, jerry rigging pumps, forming bucket brigades, survivors didn't have latrines, showers, drinking water, hot food or even MREs. Although the embassy arranged food delivery from an Aden hotel, many of the Sailors, including Parlier, didn't trust it. They made do with snacks and sodas until help arrived.
That help first came from the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Marlborough
(F233), which arrived the next day, bearing potable water, followed over the next few days by USS Donald Cook
(DDG 75), USS Haws
(FFG 53) and other ships as part of Operation Determined Response.
"There wasn't a dry eye," remembered Parlier of that first glimpse of an American flag. "There were tears in Sailors' eyes because we knew our shipmates had come to help us." The best part? Chefs on the Haws
cooked up a big batch of chili mac for Cole
Sailors. "We had our first hot meal in days and, man, that chili mac, it just raised the spirits of the crew."
As the U.S. assets poured into Aden - the ships, Marines to guard the ship, SEALs, divers, recovery teams for the remains, engineers, investigators - each asset provided a layer of protection and security for the Cole
crew. They had been alone in a hostile country, their major weapons systems disabled. It had been impossible to know who to trust. For example, at one point, as the Yemeni army set up a large perimeter around the wounded ship, its guns were actually pointed at the wounded destroyer.
"You felt pretty darn vulnerable," Parlier said. "You didn't know what was going to happen next. ... At one point, we were low crawling because there were inbound boats. We didn't know if they were armed or not. The .50 caliber accidentally went off. You're on pins and needles. ... We always thought there was another attack coming."
"It was sad" to leave his ship behind, said Parlier, who was evacuated to Norfolk, Virginia, via Oman and Germany with the rest of the crew. "I was proud of her. ... I was saddened. I would have never thought in my life that I would have to go through something like that."
At the time, the Navy wasn't sure the Cole
, transported to Pascagoula, Mississippi, via the heavy lift ship MV Blue Marlin
, could be salvaged. Officials argued that there were better uses of money, but the crew disagreed. They thought decommissioning it would send a terrible message to the enemy.