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Sailors of the USS Cowpens wave as they return to Yokosuka Naval Base.
Sailors of the USS Cowpens wave as they return to Yokosuka Naval Base. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Sailors of the USS Cowpens wave as they return to Yokosuka Naval Base.
Sailors of the USS Cowpens wave as they return to Yokosuka Naval Base. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
USS Cowpens Chief Engineer, Lt. Cmdr. Vincent Perry greets his daughter, Grace, after his return to Yokosuka Naval Base from the Persian Gulf.
USS Cowpens Chief Engineer, Lt. Cmdr. Vincent Perry greets his daughter, Grace, after his return to Yokosuka Naval Base from the Persian Gulf. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The rock ’n roll was loud, the streamers red, white and blue, and the emotions ran high as Navy spouses greeted the USS Cowpens’ war-weary sailors Tuesday morning.

The guided missile cruiser steamed into Yokosuka’s harbor around 8 a.m. — with bragging rights: Part of the USS Kitty Hawk battle group, it was the first warship to launch Tomahawk missiles into Iraq on March 20, marking the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But after more than 100 days at sea, the almost 400 sailors streaming across the gangplank weren’t talking about war.

“I’m just really glad to be home,” said Lt. Cmdr. Vincent Perry, 37, the Cowpens’ chief engineer.

Some sailors couldn’t get a word in edgewise: Eager children had much to tell absent parents.

A few had surprises to share — the new pet dog waiting at home, the story behind a fresh black eye. Others had more urgent news:

“I need help with a science report,” Tiffani Sparger, 12, told her father, Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Sparger.

Her sister, Stephanie, waving a welcome-home sign, told her dad she missed him. “I was afraid he was going to get killed,” the 9-year-old said.

Lt. Fred Holcombe, a chaplain, silently embraced 12-year-old Brent Holcombe for several minutes. Both fought tears.

Brent said he wanted to go home and watch TV with his dad.

Besides separation from family, Holcombe said, the toughest thing to endure at sea was the sea itself. “One hundred and four days under way, never touching ground,” he said. “The captain said he’s been in 24 years and was never that long without going to port.”

The chaplain credited just one thing with keeping sailors sane: “The grace of God, I guarantee it.”

But while Cowpens sailors may have been waterlogged, spouses who were deployment veterans said this cruise was short.

The Cowpens has been away for up to six months and frequently is in and out of port.

“You’re back already?” joked Lynn Jones, 36, as she and her three children awaited husband and father Lt. Cmdr. Jim Jones, the Cowpens’ executive officer.

Jill Perry, wife of Lt. Cmdr. Vincent Perry, said, “We were preparing for the long haul. … They’re coming home a lot sooner.”

But with four young kids, Perry said, much can happen in a short time. For instance, 6-month-old Grace, wide awake in her mother’s arms, now sits up, smiles, talks, eats food and sleeps at night.

“She’s changed so, so much,” Perry said. “And my son had a black eye.”

The three Perry boys waved to their dad as the Cowpens docked. When he found them on the pier, they clung to him fiercely.

First, though, the chief engineer had to get reacquainted with his daughter.

“What’s her name?” he half-jokingly asked his wife. “I’m just so excited.”

Sailors also had the chance to win raffle tickets to Disneyland and eat hot breakfast burritos as part of the welcome-home festivities.

Some, however, had more important business on their minds.

“I’ve got to call my parents,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Carmell Beard, 25, of Sparta, Ill.

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