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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ Sharon Priepke wasn't on the pier when her son's ship, the USS Cole, returned to its home port this week, a year and a half after a terrorist bombing tore open its side.

Instead, now that the repaired destroyer has returned to service, the Wisconsin woman will tow her son's beloved, restored 1980 Camaro to Norfolk in late June and escort his ashes to the Cole to be scattered at sea.

Engineman 2nd Class Marc Ian Nieto and 16 other sailors died in the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing as the ship refueled in Yemen. The 24-year-old had spent four years assigned to the Cole, after two years of training, and had just two weeks left in the Navy.

``He knew all the crew. He knew every inch of that ship,'' Priepke said by telephone from her home in Eldorado, Wis. ``That's why we wanted his ashes scattered off the Cole.''

``He was very proud of all the guys. He always told me how great the guys were, how much he cared for all of them,'' said Priepke, who raised Nieto, his younger brother and older sister alone after her divorce.

The Cole underwent $250 million in repairs at Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. It returned to Norfolk Naval Station on Thursday.

Priepke said Nieto dreamed of someday working in a NASCAR pit crew and loved working on his Camaro. Priepke had the car completely restored after her son's death so she could display it as a tribute to him at auto shows nationwide. She won't drive the car to Norfolk because she doesn't want to put too many miles on it, but she'll tow it there so her son's Navy buddies can see it.

The family already scattered half of Nieto's ashes in Lake Winnebago in his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wis. The rest of his remains have been stored at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center near Norfolk so that they could be scattered at sea by the Cole.

The Cole will take Nieto's ashes when it gets orders to go out to sea to train, likely in July, said Lt. Robert Lyon, spokesman for the naval hospital. He was unaware of plans to have the ship bury any other Cole sailors at sea.

During a burial at sea, a 21-gun salute is fired and the ashes are poured off the ship's side. An American flag is ceremoniously folded to be presented later to the family. The Navy also videotapes the rite for the family, Lyon said.

Priepke said she had hoped to watch the ceremony in person but she understands that the Navy does not permit families to do so.

``The ships are there to fight the war, not to do formal ceremonies,'' she said. ``I don't want to interrupt their mission.''


On the Net:

USS Cole: http://www.cole.navy.mil