Remembering victims of the USS Cole attack 21 years later: A mother's story of loss

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James McDaniels
Posted at 11:20 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 18:20:09-04

NORFOLK, Va. - It has been 21 years since the USS Cole was attacked, but those who were directly impacted can still feel the pain today.

The Norfolk-based based ship was attacked by terrorists while refueling at a port in Yemen on October 12, 2000. Thirty-nine Sailors were injured and 17 died that day, including 19-year-old James McDaniels, known as "Little Mac."

A thick mist blanketed the air on the fall Tuesday morning as a handful of family members gathered under a saturated tent.

Dianne McDaniels' eyes are drowned with tears as she looks over her son's grave, her mind transporting back to a morning 21 years ago.

"The TV was on. I looked at it, and it said, 'Breaking news: Attack on the USS Cole,' and my my mind just went blank as to what ship he was [on]," said McDaniels.

James, a 1999 Norview High School graduate, had just enlisted in the Navy. He was aboard the USS Cole as an information technician for 60 days when the Norfolk-based Navy ship pulled into Yemen to refuel on October 12, 2000.

"I see two people dressed in military gear coming out of the car and walking towards me," she said.

Suicide bombers blew a massive hole into the side of the ship.

James was in the way of the blast, a victim of the terrorist attack.

"They asked me, 'Am I Dianne McDaniels?' and I said, 'No,'" she said. "Because you know if they are coming to you, they have bad news."

She didn't want to believe it - her son and 16 other Sailors were dead; 39 others were injured.

"They found his body not knowing they had just found part of him, but it was enough to identify him," he said.

Over the course of months, the military would deliver her additional small gold coffins with parts of her son's remains.

"They just got pieces of him," she said. "It's hard. It really is so hard to deal with. When they told me I couldn't see him, I never questioned it."

Two decades later, her fingertips graze over his rain-laden tombstone where he lies below.

"I just wanna touch him, but I can't. To know that he is there... I wanna lay on it, but I can't. I just want him home with me," she said.

While her son is gone, she does have a piece of him as James' son, Daisaan Jesse James McDaniels, is a literal mirror image of his father.

Daisaan is now 20 years old - a blossoming young man, and he never got to meet his father. James' fiancé was pregnant when he left for deployment.

"I am lucky and blessed because I have him," said McDaniels.

James' legacy lives on, as do those of the other men and women who sacrificed their lives on the USS Cole that fateful day.

"I think it is important to keep it alive," she said.

Related: Mother of sailor who died from the USS Cole attack remembers tragedy 20 years later