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Injured U.S. sailors head home from Germany
October 16, 2000
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AP) - Thirty-three U.S. sailors injured in an attack on their ship in Yemen headed home Sunday after treatment by military doctors in Germany, but six shipmates who were more seriously hurt stayed behind.
Wearing donated track suits against the misty morning chill, the sailors gave thumbs-up signs as they boarded the gray C-141 plane taking them to a Norfolk, Virginia, air base. Most were well enough to clamber up the rear ramp, but several were taken aboard on stretchers, including one brought by ambulance to the waiting plane.
All were eager to rejoin loved ones after Thursday's apparent suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, that left 17 shipmates dead. The injured were evacuated Saturday to the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"The sailors are in good spirits," said Capt. Richard Thornell, flight commander for the medical evacuation unit handling the trip home. "They are more rested and anxious to get home and see their families."
Some waved to waiting reporters as they left the Landstuhl hospital, set among peaceful fir forests in a western corner of Germany. Asked how they felt, one shouted: "Great!" Were they happy to be going home? "Absolutely!"
Shortly after 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT), their plane roared into the sky from Ramstein for the estimated nine-hour flight home. Three nurses accompanied the injured on board.
Most of the injured suffered cuts and bruises, broken bones or eye injuries. Others limped as they got off buses that brought them from the hospital to the air base. A female officer - the only officer among the injured - had one arm in a cast; another sailor wore an eye patch.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Johann Gokool of Miami, Florida, was transported by ambulance after undergoing major foot surgery until early morning.
Many of the injured sailors also suffered emotional shock, according to doctors and chaplains who talked to them at Landstuhl.
Hospital officials said earlier that 34 sailors were cleared to return home Sunday, but doctors later decided one of those couldn't travel yet. Among the seriously injured was one sailor with a punctured lung, another with burns and several with complicated bone fractures.
"They're a little bit more sick and need stabilization," Thornell said.
The United States says 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured in the attack on the USS Cole during a refueling stop.
On Saturday, a military transport flew the bodies of five sailors killed in the attack back to the United States from Ramstein, a way station enroute from the Middle East.