In a Letter to YT, US Commander Insists on an Apology for Death of his Son in USS Cole Incident: “Mr. President….can’t you just tell me you are sorry?” [Archives:2001/36/Law & Diplomacy]

September 3 2001

As the investigation procedures in the US Cole bombing that occurred in October of last year continue without a set date for a trial so far, families of the killed 17 US sailors are still wondering why justice didn’t take place and why procedures are taking so long. The recent developments of withdrawing the FBI investigators, and afterwards the announcement that they may return back have also triggered a motion of anger among the US public. As Yemen Times, we have received many messages from families of those victims inquiring about the case, where it stands, and when the trial would start. However, our response was always “we don’t know!” Indeed, the circumstances are quite ambiguous and no announcement of any trial date was given.
In this regard, US Commander, Gary G. Swenchonis Sr., a father of one of the US soldiers who were killed in the bombing sent a letter to Yemen Times explaining his demand that President Saleh should apologize for the death of his son. Here, and based on the commander’s wish, we publish his letter as it is, hoping that his message would reach its target.
Text of letter:
“It has been close to one year now since our son and his mates were so ruthlessly murdered in your country. But still there is no formal apology from your President, and/or government. The generic apology immediately following the murders will not suffice (No one ever knew about it anyway). Our butchered sons, daughters, and fathers deserve much more than a cursory mention.
We don’t understand your country’s silence. We have researched your country and your President extensively. We wanted to try and understand who and why our son was murdered.
We know that your country has undergone dramatic and violent changes in its quest for democracy and that your government is on the path of democracy despite rebellious factions from within.
We also know that your country is dealing with extreme poverty and other related issues as well.
We have also studied the background of your President, which seems to be very impressive indeed, including his military career as well as his civilian accomplishments.
But I was an Infantryman many years ago, not an officer like your President but still a combat soldier. The Code of Honor we were taught was universal at that time. Part of that code was that you pay tribute to any soldiers/sailors who were killed while serving as allies.
Many of the values concerning honor that I learned have long since been swept away even in our country. But those same values, which we have lost, still appear to be strong in your country.
You treat me as your enemy when our son and his mates died for your country. Why?
Our own country will tell us nothing but superficial lies, and propaganda. I know that our country provides your country with financial assistance and military advisors.
In exchange, you provide our country with a strategic port and a base to spread our own political agenda in the Middle East. That is a fair enough deal.
Our sons and daughters were murdered as part of this deal. Because they represented America, a nation you were doing business with. In 1973 it was called off leave to go to the Middle East as a soldier to defend our allies over there. In the October War and 18 years later our son is murdered in the Middle East. I still don’t get it. Two generations for what? A father and 18 odd years later his son. Only his son is butchered because his father told him to join the Navy and not to reenlist in the army.
And yes, Mr. President in the end I am responsible for PFC. Gary G. Swenchonis Jr’s murder. He trusted me, and I blew it. His own father sent him to his grave.
Now you know my darkest secret. Which you may now proceed to tell the whole world.
Which brings us back to the beginning of this story. They were murdered in your country for both of our country’s beliefs of democracy and you still remain silent.
What do you want from me? I will pay my own way to your country to observe the jury, and trial. I just plead for the right to do so. He was our son, our only son.
For God’s sake answer me. Don’t treat me like my own government does.
Mr. President of Yemen,
Please, I beg of you please answer me.
It would mean so much to my wife and I to know that our son and his mates were really appreciated for giving their lives for truth and freedom.
Is that really too much to ask for?
Now sir, I will tell you about our son. He was only 26 years old when the terrorists murdered him. He loved animals, and human beings. That’s why his father told him to join the navy. There would be no personal contact like in the army. He did not understand the concept of God, nor do I. He believed in his government. Too bad they did not believe in him. I quit believing in our government in 1976, when we left the South Vet. to fend for themselves after we had promised them we would always be there.
If you are old enough, you would know that we deserted them. They really believed in us. I still feel bad about that. (Honor) It was national disgrace. But anyway Mr. President, what will it take? My Son is dead. I have no grandchildren by blood to look forward too now. I have no family at all except my wife and daughter. I will never have a grandson or granddaughter. I will never be able to watch my grandkids and kids play on the grass or just run after a ball. I spent a lot of my life alone until I met my wife, my choice. I had no other family but my son, daughter, and wife.
Regardless of politics and/or religion, and as one father to another, can’t you just tell me you are sorry? Am I alone here? There are 17 lives my son included that were cut short. For what? More land, more religion, more etc. This got a lot longer than I intended. Sorry and Take Care.
Commander Gary G. Swenchonis Sr.”