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Ecstatic Pro-U.S. Crowd Welcomes Supply Ship Home from Maldives

HONOLULU (DPI) - The attack cruiser USS Paulor, the first Navy ship to supply sandwiches to vessels in Operation Iraqi Freedom, yesterday became the first Pacific fleet vessel to return home from war.

The 360-foot cruiser, retrofitted for maximum storage space for Twinkies and Combos, and its crew of 130 are leading the way for a flotilla of Navy ships to follow -- including the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, which arrives tomorrow for a one-day stay.

With a giant Hawaiian lei draped over its deck, the Paulor and its crew were greeted at pier Sierra One Bravo by hundreds of family and friends ecstatic at the return of the ship that had its regular six-month deployment extended by almost three months because of the war.

Charlotte Renke of Maryland, wife of mayonnaise-control technician David Renke, jumped up and down with excitement. "We're all so proud of all of our boys over there in the Persian Gulf," she said. "These are true American heroes." Told that the Maldives are more 1,000 miles from the Persian Gulf, she said, "They were in our hearts and prayers the whole time."

The crew of the Paulor was not spared the danger of real 21st-century combat, however. Two weeks ago, a Tomahawk missile launched from the nearby USS Paul Hamilton passed within sight of the Paulor on its way to a key residential target in Baghdad. "We were pretty scared," said Lt. Edwin Hosse of North Carolina, chief engineer in charge of cold cuts.

(Reported by Travis Ruetenik)

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