Home at Last! Home at Last! USS Carl Vinson returns from war

With two nuclear reactors providing power beneath him and thousands of loved ones before him, who could fault commanding officer Capt. Rick Wren, for bringing the carrier USS Carl Vinson home early on Wednesday?

Earlier this week, the USS Sacramento had returned from six months of duty.

The carrier completed a six-month deployment to the Arabian Sea and received a rainy greeting by 5,000 people pierside at Naval Station Bremerton and another 500 people on the Bremerton Boardwalk.

“We’ve been trying to keep the homefire going until they return safely. My toes are freezing but it’s worth it,” said Rachel Hurell, waiting for her husband, Master At Arms First Class John Hurell.

The couple’s son, Marsilas, 9, knew what he was going to do when his dad appeared.

“(Going to) give him a hug and tell him ‘I love you dad and I miss you a lot’ and when we get home we’ll have a lot of fun,” Marsilas said.

The Carl Vinson’s primary mission had been providing air support to Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan after terrorists attacked America Sept. 11.

“I think the vision of 9-11 burned in everybody's memory and that vision

drove everybody and focused everybody for the whole time we were out there," Wren said, before the carrier arrived just before 1 a.m. at Pier Bravo.

For Airman Thor Swenson, 21, from the Carl Vinson Security Department, his tour of duty the last six months will never be forgotten.

"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything,” he said. “This is one of the most important things I have ever done. I was glued to my TV just like everyone else was on Sept. 11, and the feelings of anger, shock and helplessness were much easier to soothe right were I was. I wasn't leaving, not an inch, and I was thanking God every minute for this opportunity to make a difference."

And so was a grateful nation and Kitsap County.

“We’re no relation (to anyone on board). I’ve got tears in my eyes,” said Charlie Littman, a retired jeweler and Bremerton resident, as he watched the Carl Vinson from the Bremerton Boardwalk.

Adding to the patriotism on the boardwalk were the Olympic High School Marching Band, Bremerton Junior High Band and cheerleading squads from BJHS and Klahowya Secondary School.

Meanwhile, at Pier Bravo when the ship arrived, dozens of politicians and dignitaries met the ship.

“We’re proud to be a part of the community that helps protect the freedom of the United States. God Bless America and God Bless Bremerton,” said new Mayor Cary Bozeman.

More important than the politicians waiting were thousands of loved ones who had been missing their sailors for six months.

Linda Phelps from Iowa was waiting for son Mario Mendoza who has a two-year-old daughter, Itatziti Mendoza. He will be home in time for her third open heart surgery.

“I’m so glad to see him come,” she said. “I haven’t seen him in a year. We’ve been waiting for daddy for a long time.”

Barbie Lazio was waiting, with four-month-old daughter Talon, for husband Machinist’s Mate Chief Shane Lazio.

“I can’t wait for him to get home,” she said with tears in her eyes.

After Shane returned she said, “It’s awesome. It’s like a big weight was just lifted off my shoulder.”

Shane felt good to be back on U.S. soil as well and appreciated the grand welcome home.

“Thank you America,” he said. “We’re there for you.”

Bozeman seemed overwhelmed by the emotion of Wednesday’s events.

“In my lifetime this is one of the more important things I’ve done,” Bozeman said.

The feelings transmitted by loved ones, politicians, bands and flag waving residents along the shore was fully grasped by Vinson crewmembers.

“I’m glad I’m coming back,” Airman Will Perez said. “I feel like a hero.”

(Writers Fred Miles Watson, Kelly Everett and Summer Watterson contributed to this article.)

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