VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Monday will mark 20 years since 17 U.S. sailors on board the USS Cole lost their lives in a terrorist attack.
“He truly had a giving heart,” said Mona Gunn.
Cherone Gunn is never far from the mind of his mother, Mona.
“He would be 43 this coming Valentine’s Day,” Gunn added. “In my heart and in my mind, he is ever forever 22.”
Twenty-two years old and on his first deployment stationed onboard the USS Cole. The ship stopped in Yemen to refuel Oct. 12, 2000. Tragedy and evil — in the form of a bombing by terrorist group al Qaeda — were there waiting.
“There was CNN broadcasting the ship, the picture of the ship, the hole in the ship and the number four — four dead,” Gunn said. “I’m thinking ‘Please don’t let him be one of those four.’”
Hours later, Gunn was told her son was one of 17 sailors killed by terrorists. Thirty-nine others were wounded.
“It was worst thing in the world,” Gunn added.
Cherone Gunn had enlisted just 10 months earlier. He wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
“His daddy had done a full Navy career of 21 successful years and I said it did your daddy well and you’ll do well,” Gunn said.
What hurts Gunn is thinking about all her son lost.
“We were robbed of grandchildren and our son, who only saw 22 years,” she said.
The pain lingers even 20 years later.
“It’s difficult,” she added. “It never goes away. You’re not supposed to outlive your children.”
The days since the attack, became weeks, months and years, but it’s never far from the mind.
“I remember every detail of that day 20 years later,” Gunn said.
This weekend, Gunn will go to Arlington to visit her son. She will then meet with the survivors on board the Cole followed by a ceremony Monday pier side at Naval Station Norfolk.
“There is no such thing as closure, because you always have memories,” Gunn added.
Gunn says her anger has subsided. Her focus now is making sure that the memory of those lost on the Cole lives on.
“We don’t want people to forget the sacrifice that we’ve made by having the loss of a child serving our country,” Gunn said.
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