The Nassau returned Thursday to Norfolk Naval Station after a nine-month deployment, but the joy of homecoming was tempered by the recent loss of two of the ship’s 1,000 sailors.
Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Dale of Newport News, Va., did not appear at a roll call Sunday morning and is considered missing while the Navy investigates.
Days earlier, Petty Officer 3rd Class Dwayne Williams, 23, of Philadelphia tripped and fell from the Nassau while chasing a football, officials said. He is presumed dead. The ship was 900 miles off the Virginia coast.
A crowd of more than 1,000 cheered as the assault ship blew its whistle and pulled alongside the pier before 9:30 a.m. Sailors wearing dress white uniforms manned the rails and the Nassau flew a 400-foot-long red, white and blue pennant.
Family members of both men met the ship in Norfolk and went aboard to talk with the commanding officers and sailors, said Cmdr. Terry Sutherland, a Navy spokesman.
Later, in a statement, the Dale family said: “We are proud of our husband and son, and we honor and respect him for his devotion to duty and his dedication to his service.” The Williams family declined to comment.
Relatives and friends of the returning sailors said they were sad for the families of the two lost sailors.
“They survived a war and everything they went through, then to be so close to home and not make it -- it’s sad,” said Jeri Ward, sister of Senior Chief Del Dunbar.
Felicia Cosby was the winner of a lottery to give the first kiss to a returning Nassau sailor. She embraced her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Brandon Fullbright.