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Crowd of 5,000 welcomes Carl Vinson home

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?

The carrier completed a six-month deployment to the Arabian Sea and received a rainy greeting from 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, 9-year-old Marsilas, said he was going to “give him a hug and tell him ‘I love you dad and I miss you a lot’” when his father appeared.

The Carl Vinson has spent much of the past months conducting the war against terrorism over Afghanistan.

“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 Naval Station’s Pier Bravo.

Airman Thor Swenson, 21, from the Carl Vinson Security Department, said his six-month tour of duty never will 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 Vinson from the Bremerton Boardwalk.

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

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 Bremerton 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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