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Navy gives USS Cole crew awards

By Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Navy on Wednesday honored the crew of the USS Cole for its actions in saving the ship after the destroyer was attacked last year in the Port of Aden by suicide boat bombers.

The attack killed 17 sailors and injured 37 others.

In ceremonies in Norfolk, Virginia, Rear Adm. Jay Foley, commander of the Atlantic Fleet's Naval Surface Force, presented awards to all the surviving crew members who are still assigned to the ship.

Purple Heart medals were awarded to those sailors injured in the October 12, 2000, attack. Eight crew members received Meritorious Service Medals, and four received Navy and Marine Corps Medals. Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement medals were also awarded to many crew members.

In addition, the entire crew received a Combat Action Ribbon and a Navy Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious service.

The Cole's skipper at the time of the attack, Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who is currently assigned to the Pentagon, was not at the ceremony, according to Navy officials, but has been approved to receive a Legion of Merit, one of the Navy's highest awards.

The Legion of Merit is given for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in performance of outstanding service," according to a U.S. Navy manual.

In January, Lippold was cleared of wrongdoing in failing to implement some security measures to protect the ship from terrorist attack.

While Lippold's actions prior to the attack were the subject of a Navy investigation, Navy officials said the award is for his leadership after the attack in holding his crew together and saving the billion-dollar warship under grueling conditions.

The USS Cole is undergoing repairs at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which are estimated to cost $250 million.

In January, Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, decided that Lippold would not be subject to discipline, despite his failure to implement some 30 security measures the day the Cole was bombed in Yemen.

After the investigation, Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, concluded that Lippold's actions, while not perfect, fell within the acceptable range of conduct expected from a ship's commander. He further concluded that even if all of the security measures had been perfectly implemented, they would have made little difference given the circumstances of the attack.

A special commission that looked at the events in the aftermath of the attack was effusive in its praise of the crew's efforts in saving the ship.

At a Pentagon briefing January 9, retired Army Gen. William Crouch said, "I want to re-emphasize to you, if you don't remember anything else from what we're going to say: that crew saved that ship after that explosion. There was a time of about 2 1/2 days when the ship was in serious jeopardy and, at one point, where valves and seals failed which allowed the water to rush back in. This was long after the explosion. There was no electric generator, there was no power, it was dark, and at that point there were still shipmates, the remains of shipmates that were pinned in the damage. The crew itself was able to rise to that occasion, a tremendous motivational effort, and were able to overcome that damage and save the ship."

• United States Naval Forces Central Command and United States Fifth Fleet
• USS Cole Awards

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