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CNN Today

More Than 200 Surviving USS Cole Crewmembers Arrive at Norfolk Naval Base

Aired November 3, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you to the Norfolk Naval Base now where more than 200 surviving crewmembers of the USS Cole are getting reacquainted with family and friends.

Our Gary Tuchman has been meeting with some of them. And Gary joins us now with more about that -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, at precisely 12:57 Eastern Standard Time, this chartered DC-10 landed here at Norfolk Naval Base and 216 sailors and officers from the USS Cole were back in the country they serve.

On the tarmac right now, just a few sailors and their family members after a very emotional and lively reunion. It was 10 minutes after the plane landed that the sailors started coming down the steps of this DC-10. And hundreds of family members were here. They were kept waiting behind a rope for about an hour. The Navy brass told them, please stay behind the rope. As soon as the sailors starting coming down the steps, they rushed the plane, many of them holding up signs saying, "where are you, Brian," or "we are here, Bill," wanting to let them know where they were. They held flowers, they held roses, and they had lots of tears. They all had that in common.

At this air terminal here at the Norfolk base, signs, banners, "welcome home, our heroes," and "our hearts are with you." And it was quite a scene witnessing this in person. And as you might imagine, the sailors are grateful to be home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels so good, I want to go to Disneyland. It's wonderful. It's wonderful. We've been waiting for this day for two and a half weeks.

QUESTION: You glad to be home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's great.

QUESTION: Would you like to see your family and friends out here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so wonderful. When we touched down, we all started cheering when we touched down. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's great. It's really good to be home.

QUESTION: What's it like to see your wife after all this time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if you can imagine being away from your wife for three months and then having to go through what we went through, then you'd probably feel it for yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said, great, we're leaving and I just want to go say hello.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels really good.

QUESTION: Tell me about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really exciting to be home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't even describe it. It's just so wonderful. He just looks so terrific to me. I just don't want to let him go, ever. Of course, I think he's the handsomest boy ever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Of course, these scenes are tempered by the fact that 17 sailors were killed and 39 wounded when the USS Cole exploded on October 12. On October 15, we had a very similar scene at this very same airfield. Another plane came in with 37 of the 39 wounded sailors. Their family members also met them. We can tell you that three sailors remain hospitalized; two in Virginia, one in Maryland. They are all recovering. None of their injuries is considered to be life-threatening.

As for these sailors today with such a happy homecoming, they will now have a two-week leave. They can do absolutely anything they want, go home with their families. They're then expected to come back here later this month to Norfolk. All the Cole sailors are expected to stay together on their detail. However, they'll be working, doing office duty right now.

As far as their futures go, many of their family members have said before their sailors arrived today that they wanted to go back on the USS Cole when it was repaired. That will have to be determined in the future.

But right now, these sailors and their families are celebrating Thanksgiving three weeks early.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Gary Tuchman in Norfolk, where it's a happy day for a change.

As for the USS Cole itself, it's scheduled to arrive back in Norfolk in about five weeks. As you can see from these Navy photographs obtained by CNN, the Cole is securely now atop the transport ship Blue Marlin, which is scheduled to leave the Gulf of Aden tomorrow. Plans call for the piggy-backed ship to go around the southern tip of Africa rather than through the Suez Canal. The longer route was chosen because of security and concerns about the weather.

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