(See photos at end of story)

Thousands of people crowded onto Yokosuka Naval Base’s Pier 12 on Thursday to welcome the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to its new home in Japan. The historic significance of the event was repeatedly emphasized by Navy and Japanese military officials, as the George Washington is the only nuclear-powered ship ever to be forward deployed to Japan.

Pier-side, families reunited happily, as the carrier has been gone for seven months due to a May fire that laid up the ship in San Diego. More than 240 new families moved to Yokosuka over the spring and summer. The ship itself carries a complement of about 3,000 sailors and also embarks another 1,500 personnel from Carrier Air Wing 5 at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

Japanese protesters on small boats also greeted the ship as it sailed into the harbor with chants of “Go home, George Washington!” and opposition groups said they would hold organized demonstrations all day to voice concerns over nuclear safety.

But George Washington sailors won’t be getting too comfortable in their new home. The ship is expected to be portside in Busan for South Korea's International Fleet Review marking the navy's 60th anniversary, according to South Korean officials.

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