Thomas Bowling, president, Ivy Hill Cemetery, received Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association’s highest honor Monday morning as he was named the 2006 recipient of the Rev. Ben Lynt Distinguished Service Award during the group’s annual meeting at Alexandria’s Holiday Inn and Suites.
“I had not even given a thought as to whom might be named this year’s recipient. I am so honored. I deeply thank you all,” Bowling said in accepting the award from association president Ed Snyder.
King Street’s Ivy Hill Cemetery is the site of the Circle of Honor, dedicated to fallen local firefighters, and the annual remembrance ceremony. Established in 1856, it will celebrate its 150th anniversary this October. This past October it was the site of the 150th anniversary of Alexandria’s worst fire where seven local firefighters died.
THIS YEAR’S MEETING recognized another more recent October anniversary which proved to be the opening shot against America of the global war on terrorism. It was the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Port of Aden, Republic of Yemen, which cost the lives of 17 American seamen.
As the keynote speaker at the breakfast meeting attended by several hundred association members, Alexandria community and political leaders, and guests, Commander Kirk S. Lippold, USN, captain of the USS Cole the day of the terrorists’ attack on the ship, delivered a detailed account of the aftermath of that event, which predated the attacks on New York and the Pentagon by 11 months.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to tell you of a remarkable group of heroes I was privileged to serve with on the USS Cole,” Lippold said. Befitting the holiday on which he was speaking, the USS Cole was part of the U.S. Navy’s George Washington Battle Group.
He related that they had put into port to take on needed fuel. It was being pumped at 2,000 gallons per minute, much faster than had been anticipated. This would enable them to get back out to sea faster. “The safest place for any navy vessel is at sea, not in port,” Lippold said.
“I was sitting in my cabin at 11 a.m. when there was a thunderous explosion. You could feel the ship heave. All our power went down. As I looked out I could see clouds of smoke and haze,” he said.
“You could smell all the fuel. And, there was another smell I couldn’t identify. I took one step out of the cabin and stopped. I instinctively knew this was no accidental fuel explosion. We had been attacked,” Lippold told the audience, now sitting in absolute silence.
“I went out the port side and saw the hole in the side of the ship. Our life rafts had been blown off the ship and were floating in the water. She was listing and taking on water,” he said.
“I called the port authorities and asked for three things: 1. I wanted no movement in the harbor by any vessel; 2. I requested they contact local hospitals for aid; and 3. Send out boats to get our wounded to those hospitals,” Lippold said.
However, the third request carried a condition. “No boat was to come within 100 meters of the Cole. If you do I will shoot you,” he told port authorities.
“It’s amazing how there is no problem with the English language when you say something like that in a foreign land. Especially in such a situation,” Lippold said.
All three requests were met including rescue boats maintaining their distance. “They gave a wide berth to get to the pier where our wounded were,” he said.
As he moved closer to the blast area, Lippold discovered the cause of the smell he could not identify. It was fuel, which was still being pumped aboard entering the flooded area that also now contained live ruptured electrical apparatus. “My first thought was now we’re going to have a fire as well,” he related to the audience, made up of many firefighters.
“As I moved about the ship assessing the situation many of the wounded were piled in the passageways being cared for by other sailors. I would have given my eye teeth to talk with even one of them but I couldn’t. My first responsibility was to the ship,” Lippold said.
It took four hours to stabilize the ship. Then a generator was restored. And, finally, life aboard the Cole began to come back, not to normal, but to a battle ready-efficiency and effectiveness.
However, it was not able to travel out of port for two weeks when it was lifted onto the Blue Marlin rescue vessel and carried home to Norfolk. Of those injured among the 300 member crew, 32 survived their wounds — 17 did not.
“I met with the families of all 17 sailors we lost. That goes with command,” he said. “When we took that hit the Middle East was beginning to unravel.”
In order to show that America would not be cowed by such an attack, Lippold ordered that the ship’s flag be flown at full mast day and night “until every sailor we lost had been sent home. That flag, soiled with soot and fuel-contaminated seawater, became our symbol of determination. It denied our enemies the victory they sought,” he said. On the ninth day a memorial service was held and the flag was lowered that night for the first time since the attack.
“That flag is flying again on the rebuilt USS Cole now on duty. When the Cole is finally retired that flag will go to a museum as part of our military history,” Lippold said.
Lippold, a Naval Academy graduate, now serves as Section Chief-Middle East/Africa and Asia/Pacific, Office of Naval Operations, International Strategy Branch, at the Pentagon. As an Alexandria resident, he is also a past president of the Eisenhower Civic Association.
He was also at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 as a Political-Military Planner, J-5, Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has first-hand knowledge of what is needed to fight the war on terrorism.
When he learned that the leader of the attack on his ship had once again escaped last week from the Yemen prison where he was being held he said, “I’m outraged. It was definitely engineered from both inside and outside the prison. The government of Yemen and the people running the prison had to help him. He must be recaptured.”
PRIOR TO LIPPOLD’S presentation, the crowd welcomed this year’s parade grand marshal, NBA Hall of Fame Star and Alexandria native Earl Lloyd. “I’m very glad to be back here among old and new friends,” Lloyd said.
But, he also noted how Alexandria has changed since he graduated from Parker-Gray High School. “I drove around town to the places I used to know and I couldn’t find one of them,” said Lloyd, who was the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association and an instrumental figure in the de-segregation of professional basketball.
Lloyd enjoyed a long NBA career, playing for the Washington Capitols, Syracuse Nationals and Detroit Pistons. When he finished playing, he went into coaching.
He was the Pistons first African-American assistant coach and later became the first African-American head coach.
Also addressing the crowd were Mayor William D. Euille, Fire Department Chief Gary Mesaris, and City Manager James K. Hartmann. As has been the case for many years, the event’s master of ceremonies was former radio personality Bill Mayhugh.
As noted by Snyder in opening the annual breakfast, “Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774, two years before the Declaration of Independence. But, technically everyone who lives in the city is a firefighter in their own right.”
This was buttressed by Don DeHaven, portraying George Washington, who, after thanking everyone for honoring his birthday, reminded the audience that the founding fathers were “actually the greatest generation ever because they risked it all to establish this nation. I hope you always continue this great tradition.”