Joe Pelly works at the naval depot in Mechanicsburg now, but 18 years ago, he was 33 years old and the leading storekeeper on the U.S.S. Cole.
He was on the ship when it was attacked, and his life was forever changed.
“I think about it every day, not a day that it doesn’t pop into my mind,” said Pelly.
Pelly already had three kids of his own, but on the U.S.S. Cole, he was lucky to have an extended family.
“It was more of a family environment. Everyone was looking out for each other,” he said.
October 12 began typically. There was a fuel stop in Yemen that turned atypical.
“At 11:18, the ship kind of went up in the air, went over to the right and then came back down,” said Pelly.
Their ship was bombed. Pelly sprung into action treating the injured, and quickly realized the ship had a major wound.
“When I got there, it was a little bit clearer, and what they thought was a 10-foot hole was actually about 60 foot across and then everything below it was gone,” said Pelly.
Seventeen of his shipmates were gone. Pelly would’ve joined them if not for a special meeting.
“I lost a lot of friends. That area is where my people were,” said Pelly.
Investigators believe Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, linked to Al Qaeda, orchestrated the attack. He is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
He was set for trial later this month, but his lawyer quit, accusing the government of eavesdropping.
For Pelly, justice delayed is justice denied.
“These Gold Star family members, these parents, they’re getting older. They’re dying off, and they’re not seeing justice for the loss of their child,” said Pelly.
Pelly’s confident justice will come.
“al-Nashiri will be convicted because we have what I believe is evidence,” said Pelly.
There is evidence Pelly is healing, and he has advice for other victims of trauma.
“All I would say is if they’re going through survivor’s guilt, find that individual that you can talk to, and when you find it, don’t let them go,” he said.