The aircraft carrier USS America and the oiler USS Kalamazoo headed home Thursday to the nation's largest Navy base, joining eight amphibious ships that returned from the Persian Gulf a day earlier.
The ships that returned to Norfolk Naval Station and nearby Little Creek Amphibious Base Wednesday led a second wave of Navy homecoming celebrations that will last through the week.The Shreveport was one of the first ships to tie up and was met by a colorful crowd of flag-waving family and friends, buoyed by a Navy band playing patriotic music. Wives yelled out sailors' names and children cried out "Daddy!" as loved ones came into closer view.
Robert Welsch, 26, of Lancaster, Pa., was one of the proud fathers. He was greeted by his 4-month-old daughter, Leah, and his wife, Maggie.
"This turnout was just great - unbelievable," Welsch said. "I've got my little baby daughter here. This is the first time I've seen her. She's beautiful, I really love her."
More than 19,000 sailors and Marines are coming home this week to Virginia and North Carolina.
Including five more ships scheduled to return on Saturday, 13 amphibious ships are returning from an 8-month deployment. They make up the largest group of amphibious ships to come home since the Korean War.
One of the ships that returned Wednesday was the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima. The vessel lost 10 crewmen last October in a steam-leak accident soon after being deployed under Operation Desert Shield.
Crewmen said the tragedy was a shock but pointed out they still managed to carry out their mission.
"I'm just glad they didn't die in vain," Reggie Lee, 21, a quartermaster from Philadelphia, said of his fallen crewmates.