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  • Associated Press The U.S. Navy released this view of damage sustained on the port side of the destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist bomb exploded during a refueling operation in the port of Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000. Seventeen people were killed.

  • Moser

  • Photo courtesy of Bill Schabacker Runners approach the mile marker of USMC Lance Cpl. Andrew F. Whitacre in Bryant in the 2016 Indiana Run for the Fallen. This year's event will span the nation and honor the fallen in chronological order. Whitacre, who died in Afghanistan on June 19, 2008, will be honored in Kansas. 

  • Associated Press A large white tent covers the hole on the side of the USS Cole in Aden on Oct. 13, 2000. A powerful explosion ripped a hole in the U.S. Navy destroyer in what U.S. officials descri bed as a possible terrorist attack.

  • Courtesy Cliff Moser has this pencil drawing of the USS Cole and the 17 crewmembers lost in the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing of the ship in Aden, Yemen. He intends to take the framed picture wherever he goes for America's Run For the Fallen to put faces with the fallen.

Sunday, April 01, 2018 1:00 am

A run to honor and remember

Event recognizes those lost during War on Terror

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

America's Run for the Fallen commemorates many things for veterans and civilians.

This year's event, which begins in Fort Irwin, California, on Saturday, ensures the memory of the nearly 20,000 armed forces members who have fallen in the current War on Terror since Oct. 12, 2000 will never fade.

“There are some wounds that time does not heal,” Cliff Moser, a former U.S. Navy independent duty corpsman said. “The sharpness will go away to a certain extent, but they'll always be there.”

The event will span 19 states with runners stopping at every mile mark to commemorate individuals or a group of servicemen and women that were killed. At each stop, the memorials will state the fallen's name, rank and hometown.

The commemorations will go in chronological order of death beginning with those lost on the USS Cole.

Moser, 67, of Portland, was aboard the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, on Oct. 12, 2000 when a bomb exploded killing 17 while the ship was refueling in the harbor in Aden, Yemen.

Two words: 'Cliff, leave'

The morning of Oct. 12 began like any other.

When the ship arrived in the port of Aden, Moser went about his duties of ensuring the water was being treated to be used on board. He remembers the ship was refueling and then seeing a small boat off to the side before he headed downstairs to deliver the results of the water.

“That boat was 20-22 feet long,” he said. “The Cole crew members would take their trash, from the galley or the area that had old clothes, old shoes, food, whatever the case. You would literally tie the plastic bag and you'd drop it down to these boats and it was like treasure to them, what we were getting rid of. There was a little boat and I didn't think anything of it.”

As a man of routine, around 11 a.m., he headed to the chief's mess hall for lunch with intent to take his usual afternoon nap afterward.

“We were having chicken fajitas that day,” he said. “It's probably 12 minutes after and being a Christian, I bowed my head and thanked God for my chicken fajita and I took a bite. A voice came to me within my soul, spoke to me within my spirit, 'Cliff, leave.' Those were the two words: 'Cliff, leave.'

“I knew in my mind that it was the spirit of God that was speaking to my soul and I went ahead and I took another bite of my chicken fajita. That voice stronger, more urgent, said, 'Cliff, leave. Leave now.' So I got up, I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't know if there was going to be an argument. I knew one thing: that spirit speaking to my soul told me to leave the chief's mess.

“I took my plate and took it to the front, set it down and started to walk to the back and I hesitated at the back of the chief's mess. That spirit, more passionate, more compelling, 'Cliff, leave and leave right now.' I left. I walked out of that chief's mess, intent to go to my area and take my nap.”

Not more than 10 seconds after Moser's departure from the chief's mess, the explosion occurred.

“Everything on the ship went dark and it took a few seconds for the emergency lighting,” he said. “I could literally feel cold when the explosion happened. I could literally feel her being raised up out of the water and with two sighs, settling back down.”

Assessing casualties

Everything was dark, everything was quiet.

Being the ship's equivalent to a medical professional, Moser immediately began asking himself the questions of extent of potential injuries.

The first person he came across that required help was a fellow chief who had suffered a leg wound. At that point, Moser was still unsure what had happened.

“I immediately dressed his wounds,” Moser said, “and he said, 'Don't worry about me, you have to get up there. Doc, there are people that are dying, there are people that are wounded. Doc, you have to get back there,' ... there was the smell of smoke and the cabin started to fill with smoke.”

For the following hour and 39 minutes, the casualties were assessed. The injured were treated by their shipmates, Moser triaged and the deceased were put in body bags.

The injured and deceased had to be carried off the ship onto the refueling platform in the water. It was a half-mile to land.

“The military attaché that was assigned at the embassy in Yemen in Sanaa happened to be at one of the seaside hotels (in Aden) and he was having an early lunch at that time,” Moser said. “He not only heard it but he saw the explosion so he immediately started to round up anything that would float to head out that way.”

Of the 39 injured in the explosion, one later succumbed to his injuries bringing the fatalities to 17. Moser said it took almost a week to retrieve all the fatalities from the ship as many levels of the craft were inaccessible due to the damage from the explosion.

'An honor to do this'

The route of America's Run for the Fallen will span from Fort Irwin to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where it ends on Aug. 5.

Until this year, the annual Run for the Fallen events have been organized at state levels. Indiana's began three years ago with the relay-type running route spanning Fort Wayne to Indianapolis with stops in Portland and Anderson.

Moser, his wife Jo, her sister Carol Schabacker and husband Bill, will be traveling to California to honor those who served alongside Moser.

“It's an honor, it's a privilege for me to go out and honor my fallen shipmates,” he said. “To be a part of this remembrance of them and to honor them for the ultimate sacrifice that they gave with their lives. On that day, the best way I can put it, you don't forget about these young lives.”

Moser isn't a runner but may walk the final half- or quarter-mile in California.

The family has been involved with Indiana's Run for the Fallen the past few years. Moser's nephew (Jo's brother's son) U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andrew F. Whitacre was killed in Afghanistan on June 19, 2008, and has been honored by the run in Bryant, north of Portland.

The family has stood by the mile marker with Whitacre's name and has served catered meals to the runners when they stop over for the night in Portland.

“I've been at the stopping point at Bryant with my wife and also that evening when the runners and some of the Gold Star families,” Bill Schabacker said. “They had a dinner in Portland at the American Legion, and I've helped to serve the food and the families.

“I feel like it's an honor to do this. I get kind of emotional when I talk about it or even participate in it. It's because these are our friends and family and neighbors that are honoring and keeping our lives free here.”

Honor and remember

Fort Wayne's Frank Murphy, whose father was in the U.S. Air Force, has participated in the running portion in Indiana the last three years and will do so again this year when the route is in Indiana on June 20-30.

“The worry is that people will forget that they were ever here,” he said. “The last time their names are spoken out loud, that's when they're truly forgotten. We're going to say their name out loud. If it raises awareness, that's great, if it inspires somebody, whatever else it does. Those are all nice auxiliary benefits. The reason and purpose is to honor and remember those that never came home.”

Murphy is a distance runner and provides a different sort of guidance for those who aren't quite as trained in how to approach anywhere from 12 to 24 miles of running.

“What's cool about my particular ability, having an ultra (running) background, I can be on a team with two or three other vets who don't have a lot of distance running experience,” he said, “and I can set a pace and provide a leadership for the running side of things. There's just things that aren't appropriate to me. I'd rather have a veteran do this, somebody who's closer to it. There's a way for everyone to be involved. I like to go out and run but this is a way for me to give back, just a little bit.”

For those interested in becoming involved with the Run for the Fallen, go to RunfortheFallen.org.

areichel@jg.net