Stark Sailors Return Home
MAYPORT NAVAL STATION, Fla. (AP) _ The families of 44 sailors from the USS Stark greeted the crewmen with hugs, kisses, tears and homemade signs on their arrival home Thursday, six weeks after the frigate was attacked in the Persian Gulf.
The C-141 Air Force cargo plane lumbered into Mayport Naval Station about 4:40 p.m. EDT and was immediately boarded by several Navy officers who went aboard the windowless aircraft to brief the men about leave.
″It’s like having my own children back after I lost them for awhile,″ Rear Adm. Michael Kalleres, commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group 12, said after their arrival.
″I’m proud of every one of them,″ Kalleres added. ″I shook each one of them’s hands. I talked to them. They are ecstatic to be back.″
Kalleres said the 42 crewmen and two officers, whom he described as tired but happy to be home, would be on leave until early August when the Stark returns to its home port at Mayport. They will then relieve the crewmen now aboard the ship, he said.
The sailors, all dressed in civilian clothes, ignored reporters’ questions shouted to them after they got off the plane and also declined requests for interviews.
″They were reminded there is an investigation under way and told not to say anything to impact the investigation,″ said Cmdr. Fred Leeder, a Navy spokesman.
The crewmen were flown to this northeast Florida base from Bahrain with a refueling stopover at the U.S. Naval Station at Rota, Spain, to a homecoming of about 50 family members, including a pregnant woman in the early stages of labor who left a hospital to greet her husband, Kalleres said.
Accompanying the woman, who was unidentified, was a little girl carrying a sign that read ″Daddy, I wuv you.″
The joys of the homecoming, however, were tinged by memories of the deaths of 37 shipmates killed when the Stark was hit May 17 by two missiles fired by an Iraqi warplane off the coast of Bahrain.
Two sailors who suffered serious burns and other sailors accompanying the bodies of the dead crewmen have returned since the attack.
Formal welcoming ceremonies will be delayed until the Stark, which sailed out of Mayport in early February, returns home next month with a sister ship, the Stephen W. Groves, according to Chief Petty Officer Art Riccio, a base spokesman.
A new skipper, Cmdr. John B. Noll, will bring the guided-missile frigate home Aug. 5.
Capt. Glenn Brindel was relieved of duty last week pending a possible court-martial for allegedly failing to avert the missile strike or minimize losses.