The Mobile sailed into the Long Beach Naval Station Wednesday after nine months in the Persian Gulf, one of the last U.S. ships to return from the war.
The Mobile was the last of the ships based in Long Beach to return. Other ships coming back the same day were the amphibious assault ships New Orleans, Denver, Germantown and Peoria, all based in San Diego.
As the Mobile approached port, some of the sailors who had gathered at the rail for their first glimpse of shore said they were sorry to have missed the national hoopla that welcomed troops home on Independence Day.
"When the Fourth of July rolled around, we felt a little cheated," said Scott McCall, 22, of El Paso. "(Getting here) has taken a long time."
Added shipmate John Payne, 20, of Las Vegas: "We definitely missed out on a lot of the parties."
But they haven't missed all of them, judging from the enthusiastic greeting from an estimated 800 to 1,000 people waiting on the pier. Cheering wives and children waved flags, flowers and balloons, a band played "Come on Baby, Let the Good Times Roll," clowns exhorted the crowd to laughter, and huge banners proclaimed such sentiments as "Let's Party" and "They Saved the Best for Last."
"They're back now and that's all that matters," said Michelle Seldon, 19, whose husband, James, had just met his new 5-month-old daughter, Molly, for the first time. "He's safe and alive. We missed out on a lot of holidays, but we'll make up for it."
After sailing from Long Beach on Dec. 1, 1990, the Mobile, an amphibious cargo ship carrying 335 sailors and Marines, led a U.S. task force through the northern gulf's offshore oil fields, becoming the first ship to make an amphibious landing at Ras Al Mishab, Saudi Arabia. There the Mobile unloaded 250 combat Marines and more than 1,400 tons of vehicles, cargo and equipment. After the war ended, the ship remained in the area as part of the United Nations' deterrent force.
"The ship's performance was superb," said Capt. Guy E. Myslivy, the Mobile's commanding officer. "The crew was ready for any contingency. The tension was there, but we felt relatively secure; we never really felt threatened."
Toward the end of their deployment, he said, he tried to keep the crew's morale up by assuring them that their efforts would not be forgotten even though the nation's attention seemed to have moved on to more pressing concerns, such as the events in the Soviet Union.
"Around here we are known as the Raiders of the Last Ark," he quipped.
Out on the pier, meanwhile, none of that seemed to matter as husbands hugged wives and fathers lifted children. "This feels great," said John Elmendorm, 20, of New York. "What we did was right and I'm glad to be home. We knew that America would always be waiting for us, whenever we got back."
Said Douglas Baugh, 20, of Redding, hugging his wife, Katy, and holding his 8-month-old daughter, Brittany: "When it comes right down to it, you just want your family there. If you have your family, you don't need anybody else."