Commander of USS Cole gives recounts attack
Even before he spoke a word, more than 150 members of the Navy League came to their feet for Kirk Lippold, a 1977 Carson High School graduate and the commander of the U.S. Navy’s USS Cole when it was attacked Oct. 12, 2000.
“Since last summer when I relinquished control of USS Cole, the world has changed dramatically,” he said. “For me, that change has been there for a while.”
Standing at the lectern in his dress whites, the former ship commander now a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the fated day when the 200 members of his crew came together to stabilize the ship and save the injured after being attacked in the Gulf of Yemen.
“The crew defaulted to their training,” he said. “No one had to tell them what to do. You may have all this modern technology, but we went back to the basics in a hurry. There was a plan on laminated paper where the damage was and how we were going to maintain the ship and save it.”
He told of how the the destroyer listed to port 5-1/2 degrees and how the front two-thirds was without power.
“We were terrified we were going to have a fire,” he said. “You could hear the wires sparking down in the fuel.”
It took an hour and a half to get the wounded off and four hours to stabilize the destroyer immediately after the attack. Though 17 sailors died in the blast, 32 of the 33 wounded lived due to the quick thinking of his crew, he said.
Though the ship was stabilized right away, the ordeal lasted for days.
He spoke of commanding his executive officer to find every bucket on board the Cole, with the plan of keeping water from overrunning engine room three. A bucket brigade spent two and a half hours dipping water from the ship the old-fashioned way.
“Sailors,” he said, “are some of the most ingenious people in the world.”
Lippold, sharp-eyed and smiling, exuded confidence and pride.
“On the day of the attack the X.O. had come to me. ‘It’s getting to be about colors,’ he said to me. I said, ‘X.O. that’s easy. That flag is not coming down. We are not deterred. We will not give up. We are unshaken.’ And that is how we stayed.”
A woman up front wiped her eyes as Lippold continued. Even though the USS Cole was brought to a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., via the Norwegian ship, the Blue Marlin, Lippold said it could have happened another way.
“If I needed to do it, that ship could’ve gotten underway on her own power thanks to that crew.”
Standing before the group with his three gold stripes and one star on each shoulder, he asked his story be remembered.
“It’s part of our heritage now and we want to make sure it stays alive.”
As he thanked his listeners, he received a standing ovation from the audience which included Navy veteran state Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, Carson City Navy League President Ray Alcorn who is a former prisoner of war and Navy veteran, and Cmdr. Bob Brogan, who attended both Lippold’s change of command when he took charge of the USS Cole and when he left it for the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va.
Lippold thanked members of the Navy League for inviting him to help celebrate the league’s 100th anniversary. He remembered former President Theodore Roosevelt, who he said had “vision beyond what anyone could imagine,” by fostering a strong Navy.
His mother, Bee Staheli, father, Robert Lippold, and sister, Holly, were also in attendance and were recognized for their support of Lippold and the Navy.
“I thought (his speech) was just outstanding,” said Fred Uptergrove, a member of the Navy League. “It was just tremendous.”
His wife, Lela, nodded her head. “It makes you proud to be an American,” she said.