Biden welcomes Navy ship home for the holidays

December 8, 2011

MAYPORT, Fla. – Vice President Joe Biden made an unscheduled stop during a visit to Florida on Thursday to greet 350 sailors from the USS Gettysburg as they came home after seven months at sea.

A brass band played and happy families waved flags and held up signs as a grinning Biden helped them welcome home loved ones just in time for the holidays. Seven of the sailors who had babies born while they were at sea were allowed to get off the ship first.

Sophia Perfida, 11 months, waits to see her father.

One sailor dressed up as Santa Claus in honor of the ship’s arrival, drawing thrilled shouts from some of the children waiting for their mothers and fathers.

“This is the greatest thing in the world,” said Captain Robert Hein, commander of the guided-missile cruiser Gettysburg, which had been to Afghanistan, off the Horn of Africa and the Mediterranean during its deployment.

“This is Christmas, New Year’s, the Fourth of July and your birthday all wrapped up in one.”

Biden spoke briefly to the families before boarding the Gettysburg, where he used the ship’s loudspeaker to welcome the sailors home and thank them for their service. Then he stood on deck, shaking hands with about a hundred of the sailors, greeting them with “Welcome Home,” and handing each a vice presidential coin.

Biden was in Florida on official business on Thursday to tout an administration plan to cut the cost of attending college.

It was Biden’s fourth trip since September to Florida, an important swing state that he and President Barack Obama won by just 3 percentage points in 2008 and where the Democratic incumbent is expected to face a tough fight as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Photo credits: Patricia Zengerle

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