A MOTHER & HER SON SHARE A SPIRITUAL ODYSSEY by Dalton Narine
USS Cole survivor succumbed to a violent panic attack in bed a week after his 31st birthday, 12 years following a terrorist strike on the guided missile destroyer.
A memorial to a Navy son whose special bond between him and his mom comes into play when he’s wounded in the attack on Oct. 12, 2000 at the port of Aden in Yemen. At the hospital, the son would predict the 9/11 terrorist attack just so.
By DALTON NARINE
Johann Gokool passed away on December 23, 2009, after suffering a panic attack at his home in Homestead, Florida. Gokool, the Trinidadian-born Petty Officer Third Class, an electronic warfare technician on the Cole, was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following his recovery from wounds he received in October 2000 when terrorists struck the destroyer at the port of Aden in Yemen. Gokool was a dear friend who had been wracked by panic attacks for years after the explosion. It behooves me to tell his story.
On Sunday, Oct. 8, 2000, four days before the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in the Mideast, Liah Gokool got the first hint that disaster was about to strike her son and his ship. She was preparing for a day’s work as manager of the young men’s department at Burdines in Cutler Ridge, Miami. Suddenly, her left leg began to throb. The pain got so intense, Liah had to go home. An eerie anxiety set in. There was a special bond between her and her sailor son Johann and she knew she had to help him.
By the time Liah gets home, the pain has traveled to her chest. She lights a candle, hoping to alter the Cole’s worrisome course.
As the leg pain increases, something else ramps up her fears: The day before the attack, a dining room chair lost its left front leg when her husband, Ramish, sat down for dinner.
“It was as if it was cut by a laser,” Ramish remembers.
Seconds later, at 11:18, the terrorists strike.
In Homestead, Johann’s sister Natala turns on the TV in the living room. Smoke billows from a 40-foot gash in the side of the Cole. The ship is afire and Liah is losing it.
Liah turns to God. Now she begins to feel her son. She knows exactly where he is, in some dark pit at the bottom of the ship. The leg pain slams home with a vengeance. She interprets it as a sign that both his legs are mangled. Moreover, his head is bloodied and his skin burned because now her own skin is highly sensitive. She envisions him dragging himself. She must help him, like that time back in Trinidad when a snake crawled into his crib. An odd cooing from her infant’s room alerted her.
Johann, out cold and sprawled on his stomach in the engineering room, wakes up after a half hour. He can’t get up. His legs won’t work.
He feels compelled to crawl toward light, any light. He finds an escape trunk, a long tube with a four-story metal ladder.
He’s a bloody mess, this young man whose chiseled good looks reflects the multi-ethnic blend of his birthplace. His Hindu father, Ramish, 61, and French Creole mother, Liah, 52, whose brother is a Catholic priest in Carapichaima, Trinidad, are testament to the admixture. (Ramish and Liah have three other children: Angelo, 32; Natala, 30; and Hamish, 23. Liah’s eldest, Owen Paponette is 35 and runs a construction business in north Florida.)
As is common with near-death adventures, snippets of his life are supposed to float through his mind: The camaraderie with his best pal, Ronald Owens. The excruciating headaches as a teen that drove him to his room to sketch Hindu deities. Drawing whole species of sharks to slake his thirst for marine biology. The long-distance relationship with his girlfriend that never worked out.
Warped by the explosion, the door is jammed shut. He bangs and yells until rescuers break down the door and drag him out into the sunlight.
With her son in jeopardy again, Liah seeks help from the Virgin Mary; Ramish offers prayers to her Hindu counterpart, Lakshmi, the goddess who stands for good over evil, light over darkness. Fr. Paponette holds Mass in Johann’s name at his parish. Students at Southridge High School in Miami, Johann’s alma mater, write inspirational letters.
But no one dared tell him about the fate of his best pal, who was blown to pieces. Besides, the expression on the face of President Clinton, one of his special bedside visitors, clued him in that he was in bad shape.
A few days after 9/11, friends took Johann to a concert in Norfolk. A rock group was working the audience with the song Kryptonite. Suddenly, he felt like “I was losing my soul.” He hyperventilated, fell to his knees and held his chest. His pals panicked. They saw his head flip backward, as if he were shot.
“I felt it in my head, BOOM,” he recalls.
The next morning, he learned that a friend, a gunner’s mate, had donned his full dress uniform and blown his head off with a shotgun.
Such homemade explosion sparked a new kind of pressure. The grinding pressure of a federal republic’s demands for a period of peace around the world. That Johann Gokool and many of his ship mates fought and died for great prosperity at home and peace on earth is a measure of all the possibilities their freedom allowed them.