A remembrance ceremony will be conducted at Naval Station Norfolk, VA Monday, Oct. 12 commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. The ceremony will honor the 17 shipmates who were killed in the attack and honor those crewmembers who fought to save the ship.
Fireman Gary G. Swenchonis Jr., a 1994 graduate of Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) in Rockport, TX and native of Fort Hood, TX, is one of the 17 sailors who was killed serving aboard USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer with the nickname “Determined Warrior” that was bombed in a suicide attack while being refueled in Yemen’s Aden harbor.
The attack was attributed to al-Qaeda suicide bombers, who sailed a small boat near the destroyer and detonated explosive charges. The blast created a hole in the port side of the ship about 40 feet in diameter, killing 17 crewmembers and injuring 37. Sailors courageously fought fires and flooding for the following 96 hours to keep the ship afloat.
Swenchonis was born Sept. 1, 1974 to Gary Sr. and Deborah Swenchonis, and enlisted in the U.S. Army for four years. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Jan. 14, 1999.
After completing Basic Training in Great Lakes, IL on June 4, 1999, Swenchonis was a student at Surface Warfare Engineering School, also at Great Lakes, completing training on Aug. 20, 1999. He reported to USS Cole (DDG 67) on Oct. 30, 1999.
During the ceremony, a 21-gun salute will be fired and taps played to honor and celebrate the fallen service members. A ceremonial wreath, made by Cole Sailors, will be dedicated on the port side of the ship in memory of the Cole Heroes. The ceremony will end with a tolling of a bell and reading of the names of the 17 heroes whose lives were killed.
“Serving on board Cole is an honor and a privilege,” said Cmdr. Ted Pledger, commanding officer of USS Cole. “Today’s Determined Warriors work hard to carry on the inspiring legacy of those who served before us.”
Aboard USS Cole, there is the “Hall of Heroes” in a passageway along the mess line leading to a memorial listing the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Seventeen stars are embedded in the blue-speckled deck, representing the sailors who walked that passageway more than 20 years ago.
Swenchonis was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation and the rank of Fireman. He earned many medals and decorations while serving in the Army, including the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon.
Cole is named in honor of Marine Sgt. Darrell S. Cole, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945.
Cole’s motto, “Glory is the Reward of Valor,” underscores the spirit of Sgt. Cole for his extraordinary heroism, his unwavering loyalty to his country and his bravery in facing adversity without fear. His valor and sacrifices are a direct representation of the 17 Sailors who were killed and the crew for their heroic actions to save the ship on that fateful day 20 years ago, and the resolve and war fighting attitude the Determined Warrior continues to embrace.