NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- By 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, May 7, a father's dream finally came to fruition. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner joined Jon Clodfelter - father of Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, one of 17 sailors killed Oct. 12, 2000, when a terrorists' bomb ripped a hole in the Norfolk-based guided-missile destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden - and others for the May 7 signing of a bill authorizing a Cole commemorative license plate at the USS Cole Memorial on Naval Station Norfolk near Iowa Point.
"I've always said there's no way I want these kids to be forgotten, or what the ship went through to be forgotten," said Clodfelter, a resident of Mechanicsville, Va.
Thirty-nine other Cole sailors were injured in the attack and the ship would have been destroyed were it not for the efforts of its crew.
Clodfelter said his desire to honor the memory of his son and the rest of the Cole crew was born from something simple - a father's love.
Inspiring words from then-President Bill Clinton at the Cole memorial service in October 2000, and a touch of inspiration from his son Joe, quickly moved Clodfelter to action. In January 2001 Clodfelter and his wife Gloria began the journey that brought them to naval station - nearly 15 months after they began.
But, spearheading an effort to create a commemorative license plate with Cole's coat of arms and the words "Remember the USS Cole" emblazoned on it was no easy task. Clodfelter had to contend with numerous obstacles. Not only would he need the Navy's help on his mission, he found he needed Virginia politicians as well.
After getting permission from then-commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Rear Adm. Christopher Cole to use the Cole's coat of arms Clodfelter then worked with the Virginia General Assembly to pass a proclamation - House Joint Resolution No. 568 - which he presented to his delegate for Hanover County, Frank Hargrove, who sponsored the legislation for the license plate.
Having secured a delegate willing to help move his legislation through, Clodfelter now had to get the public support to warrant the plate's production and distribution. To get the ball rolling, he would need at least 350 signatures of people promising to buy the $25 plates - $15 of which will go to a general welfare fund to help Cole crew members - from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Clodfelter, setting up a table at the Norfolk Navy Exchange and even the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., easily surpassed his 350-signature goal.
"Hopefully," said Clodfelter, "one day, the Cole will be able to play a small role in going after those that did this."
The one-year anniversary of the attack was marked with the dedication of the USS Cole Memorial near Iowa Point on the naval station. Several others followed, including memorials constructed on board the newly repaired Cole, which returned to Norfolk April 19.
In November 2001, Clodfelter presented the petitions with more than 3,000 signatures to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond for consideration.
And May 7, after more than a year of steadfast dedication Clodfelter's stood by at the USS Cole Memorial as Warner signed two bills - one, re-establishing a military advisory council and the second, a cooperation between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the military that will meet on a regular basis.
"What I saw reflected in the faces of those young sailors was a commitment to never forget," Warner said, of the sailors on board Cole he met during a tour before the ceremony. Clodfelter, choking back tears at the final realization of the promise he made to his son so many months ago, was visibly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
"If it wasn't for the 1,600 people (who signed the petition) today would not be possible. "To the old crew (of the Cole), I say 'thank you."'
Remember the USS Cole commemorative license plates will be available later this year.
For more information on USS Cole (DDG 67), go to http://www.cole.navy.mil/.