- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2000

NORFOLK Flags were lowered to half-staff yesterday as this Navy town absorbed the shock that one of its ships, the USS Cole, had been attacked in the Persian Gulf, leaving six crewmen dead and a dozen missing.

The loss of life was one of the worst for the Navy and the worst for this town since 1989, when a gun turret exploded on the Norfolk-based USS Iowa, killing 47 sailors.

Twelve sailors are still missing and 36 were injured in the terrorist attack, which occurred just after 5:15 a.m. (EDT) yesterday as the destroyer was refueling in a Yemeni port on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Pentagon said it was contacting families and would not release victims' names until today. But the parents of sailor Craig Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Md., confirmed last night that their son was killed in the bombing, according to the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md.

Family and friends passing through tight security at the Norfolk Naval Station were reassured by the Navy that it would take care of those touched by the disaster.

"The Navy is doing everything we can to pull through this, and we are going to make it and and pull together for the family members," said spokeswoman Lt. Brenda Malone.

Lt. Malone said the mood at the world's largest Navy base is subdued.

To help the families, the Navy has provided 18 telephone hot lines and set up two central command centers at the naval base. Lt. Malone said the centers are providing everything from grief-counseling sessions to foodstuffs.

Chaplains and lawyers are also on hand for those who need them.

Many of the families have assembled in the Navy Family Service Center in Ely Hall on base so they can be comforted as they wait to hear the fate of their loved ones.

Another Navy spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Mark McDonald, said a "significant" number of the 81,000 naval personnel living in the area are linked in some way to the crew of the Cole.

"We all know that this could happen to any one of us, so we're concerned for the rest of the Navy families," Lt. Cmdr. McDonald said.

Catherine M. Stokoc, director of the Navy Family Service Center in Norfolk, said 114 family members were at the Navy base getting periodic updates.

Last night, the bar at VFW Post 4809 erupted in cheers and hugs as William Herbert, walking around with a thumbs-up sign, delivered the news that his son, Joseph, was uninjured.

Joseph Herbert, 22, was assigned to an engine room, near the site of the blast.

That fact had worried his brother, George, since George's wife called him at his construction job yesterday afternoon.

George Herbert and his father went to Ely Hall at the naval base, where the families of USS Cole sailors were gathering. "People were hopeful, but there were a lot of tears and frustration," said George Herbert, 32. "We knew more from CNN than from the Navy."

Mr. Herbert said the Navy and the Red Cross were arranging child care and lodging. The Navy is going to fly the families of the injured to Germany, where the sailors are being treated.

The families yesterday were visited by high-ranking Navy officials and many chaplains.

Fleet Week a celebration of the Navy's 225th anniversary will continue as scheduled, said Charles Hartig, spokesman for Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim.

Mr. Hartig said the Navy requested that the celebration not be stopped.

At tonight's Lee Greenwood concert in Town Point Park, a candlelight vigil will take place in memory of the fallen sailors.

The Navy League of Hampton Roads has established a memorial fund in honor of those who died.

"It touches us all the men and women who serve on these ships are our friends and neighbors," said Mr. Hartig. "We go to church with them. They coach our Little Leagues."

In a statement, Mr. Fraim expressed sympathy to the families and crew and said his city is willing to do anything and everything it can to help.

Daniel F. Drummond and Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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