Shipshape again, USS Cole heads back home
PASCAGOULA, Mississippi (CNN) -- Eighteen months after suicide attackers blew a gaping hole in the side of the USS Cole, the U.S. Navy held a ceremony to celebrate the refurbished ship's return to duty.
Nicknamed "Determined Warrior," the ship shoved off from Northrop Grumman Ship Systems' Ingalls Shipyard at 11 a.m. (noon EDT) and carried its 350 crew members to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia.
Under clear skies, hundreds of sailors, shipyard workers and VIPs sat on the pier where the ship was docked as Navy brass and shipyard executives gave the crew a sendoff. "USS Cole, We Salute You," read one banner.
On October 12, 2000, while the ship was in port in Aden, Yemen, suicide bombers blasted a 40-by-40 foot hole in the hull, killing 17 crewmen and wounding 37 others.
Over 14 months, shipyard workers replaced 550 tons of steel plate and 275 miles of cable. They rebuilt the galley, adding a display case that holds the flag that was flying over the ship when it was attacked. A plaque commemorates the dead, and the deck is inlaid with 17 stars to serve as reminders of those who died.
"I used to play a little game with myself: say all their names every time I stepped on a star," said Daren Jones, one of 40 sailors who were on board during the attack and who still serves with the renovated vessel's crew of 350.
"I think it sends a message of what kind of country we have and what we're willing to do to keep our ships back at sea," he said.
The repair bill was $250 million, less than a quarter the price of a new ship, the Navy said.
CNN Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.
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