- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

NORFOLK — Rain-soaked, shivering but triumphant, sailors of the USS Harry S. Truman hoisted a banner reading “We gave ‘em freedom!” yesterday as the first East Coast aircraft carrier returned from the war in Iraq.

The Truman, with 5,400 sailors and Marines on board, moored at Norfolk Naval Station as thousands of friends and relatives on the pier cheered and waved “welcome home” signs.

“It’s wonderful. It’s excellent,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Jovantay Champagne, 25, of Providence, R.I., said as he stood at the edge of the flight deck, clutching a small American flag. “It just makes you feel like you did something important. It’s nice to get a little bit of appreciation for this.”

“I’m joyful and proud — and freezing,” said Seaman Miguel Ortiz, 19, of Buffalo, N.Y.

On the pier, Airman Dorian Ramsey cooed to his 4-month-old son, Dorian Jr., “Hey, young man,” upon seeing him for the first time.

“He’s like an angel,” Airman Ramsey said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Perry had to go to the hospital to see his son. He found out yesterdaymorning by Red Cross telegram that he was the 110th Truman sailor to become a father during the deployment. His wife, Savannah, gave birth to Jacob David at 10:08 p.m. Thursday.

“I wish she could have held on a couple more hours,” said Petty Officer Perry, 22, of Charleston, W.Va.

Not all the returning warriors were able to go home immediately after the 1,096-foot Truman moored amid extremely heavy security. Airman Maxwell Wollman was among some sailors on duty who wouldn’t be allowed to leave the ship until today.

“Truthfully, I’m not excited at all,” said Airman Wollman, a 24-year-old aviation ordnanceman from Fort Wayne, Ind. “I get to watch everybody else get off.”

Still, he said he was “happy to smell American air,” adding, “It lets you know you’re going home.”

When the carrier left on Dec. 5 for a scheduled six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf, sailors knew they might have go to war and live up to the carrier’s battle cry: “Give ‘em hell.”

The phrase “Give ‘em hell, Harry” became associated with President Truman after someone shouted it at him during a campaign rally.

“We trained to that tempo,” said Capt. Michael R. Groothousen, the Truman’s commanding officer. “It’s the same training we would always do, but there was probably a little more spring in our step because of the possibility we could see combat.”

Early on March 20, ships in the Truman strike group launched Tomahawk missiles onto targets in northern Iraq.

Over the next 30 days, aircraft taking off from the Truman dropped more than 700 tons of bombs on targets in northern Iraq to support U.S. infantry and special operations forces on the ground. That was more than any other battle group in the war, officials said.

For Petty Officer 1st Class Renee Byers, 37, of Pine Bluff, Ark., the wartime assignment was personal.

She was working in the Pentagon during the September 11 attacks, but was uninjured. The son of a friend was on the hijacked plane that hit the building, she said.

“Our work was not in vain,” Petty Officer Byers said. “Everybody had a part to play.”

Barbara Wilson, mother of Airman Nick Holland, said she was proud of every sailor and Marine aboard the Truman.

“They have done a fantastic job for us, and I couldn’t be more proud,” she said. “It is just a fantastic moment to be an American, let me tell you.”

Other ships that returned to Norfolk yesterday were the guided missile cruiser USS San Jacinto, the guided missile destroyers USS Oscar Austin, USS Mitscher and USS Donald Cook, the destroyers USS Briscoe and USS Deyo, the guided missile frigate USS Hawes and the oiler USNS John Lenthall.

About 8,000 sailors and Marines were on board the nine ships in the Truman strike group.

“We love you, and thanks for what you have done for our country,” Vice Adm. Albert H. Konetzni Jr., deputy and chief of staff of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, told sailors over the Truman’s loudspeaker yesterday morning as the ship neared Norfolk. “Welcome home, heroes.”

A second Norfolk-based carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is due home next week.

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