Sunday, October 15, 2000

Seaman recounts horror of attack


Green Twp. couple hears from son on Cole

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Joseph Huffman
Joseph Huffman
        GREEN TOWNSHIP — David and Kathy Huffman will sleep a little easier tonight. The phone rang again.

        After a heart-wrenching two-day wait, the Green Township couple finally heard their son's voice on Saturday. Seaman Joseph Huffman, serves aboard the USS Cole, the destroyer that was bombed as the ship was fueling in Yemen. At least seven aboard were killed; another 10 are missing and presumed to be dead.

        The Navy called the Huffmans Thursday to say their son was safe. But only the sound of Joseph's voice would stop the churning of Mr. Huffman's stomach.

        Joseph tried calling his father from the Cole on Friday morning. However, he called his father's workplace while Mr. Huffman waited at home by the phone.

        At 8 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Huffman finally talked to his son for the first time since late August, when he flew to Sicily to join the Cole. Though the conversation lasted only three minutes because Joseph was pressed for time, “it seemed like an eternity,” said Mr. Huffman.

        “The very first thing he said was, "Dad! Dad! It's Joseph. I love you, Dad. I'm OK,'” recalled Mr. Huffman. “He told me he'd seen some things in the past few days he wished he wouldn't have.”

        Mr. Huffman said it was obvious from the sound of his son's voice over the phone that he was very fatigued and distraught. He said his son may have no physical scars from the tragedy, but mentally it has taken its toll.

        “He told me the whole experience was horrifying,” Mr. Huffman said. “He said to me, "Dad, you only see stuff like this in the movies. Those were my shipmates, the guys I worked with, my friends. I know I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I didn't deserve to see something like this.'”

        Mr. Huffman said he asked his son what made him leave his post in the engine room — an area very near the bomb's blast point. He said Joseph told him he had walked up on deck to help with the fueling.

        Mr. Huffman said Joseph told him that he even saw the boat that was carrying the explosives and two unidentified men as it approached the Cole. Joseph leaned over the railing to wave at the ship, then seconds later, there was an explosion.

        “We are not in a time of war,” Mr. Huffman said. “Joseph felt he wasn't in harm's way. He leaned over the side rail and waved. ... He said he didn't even make it half way across the deck before the explosion.”

        Mr. Huffman said he shudders to think of his son's fate if he had stayed at his duty post.

        “If they would have decided to refuel five minutes earlier, my son would be lost right now or dead,” Mr. Huffman said.

        But instead of mourning, the Huffmans are rejoicing. They are praying for the families of those seamen who have died or have yet to be found. And they are careful not to forget that the danger hasn't subsided — yet.

        “We've made it over one hurdle,” Mrs. Huffman said. “We are definitely not at a point where we are relieved fully, because we've still got two sons out there. We don't know what's going to happen next or what kind of danger they are still in. It is still a very scary situation.”

        The Huffmans have another son, Michael Huffman, Joseph's twin brother, who is serving aboard the USS George Washington. Mr. Huffman said he may soon have two sons in the same spot, as Michael may volunteer to help out with the Cole.

        “I told Michael, "I don't know if I like that idea.' And he told me, "Dad, I've got to go,'” Mr. Huffman said.

        “Nobody wants their kids in harm's way, but these two kids are putting themselves in extreme danger to give all of us the freedom we have, and that makes me very, very proud.”

       



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