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Sunday, May 11, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Everett holds ticker-tape parade for USS Abraham Lincoln's crew

The Associated Press

EVERETT — Hundreds of men and women from the USS Abraham Lincoln joined a crowd of thousands today as part of the city's parade celebration welcoming the sailors home.

The homecoming was a second, much larger ceremony for the aircraft carrier's crewmembers, who returned to their homeport at Naval Station Everett last Tuesday after a nearly 10-month deployment that culminated with the Iraq war.

"We're getting all sorts of support. Complete strangers wave at us and say thanks," said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Rodriguez, who has been stationed with the Lincoln for two years.

Rodriguez, 27, said the most difficult part of the war was the buildup, and not knowing what would happen.

"There was a lot of weariness and waiting," he said. "But once the order came for action our spirits went up."

The 18-story aircraft carrier and its five-ship battle group were at sea for 9-1/2 months, one of the longest deployments of a nuclear-powered carrier since Vietnam.

The Lincoln had been heading home on New Year's Day after a regular six-month deployment when it was ordered to turn around and head to the Gulf.

Petty Officer 1st Class Corey McCarter was deployed on the Lincoln just six months but said it was difficult to explain to his two children, Elizabeth, 5, and Mason, 1, why he had to leave.

"It was really hard to explain to them that daddy's gone because he's fighting in a war," McCarter said.

The festivities Saturday afforded people who closely watched the war unfurl the opportunity to give thanks and show their appreciation.

"There are a lot of people who didn't get to physically be here for the homecoming," city of Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. "People just want to be here, be a part of history."

The parade also gave some members of the city's Iraqi community a chance to show their patriotism.

Shiite refugee Qassim Al-Hilfy, 35, came to the United States in 1997 after spending five years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. He wore a red, white and blue running suit and helped carry a large American flag during the parade.

"I feel good. We needed to make Saddam Hussein go away from Iraq," he said.

About 500 sailors and their families marched in the ticker-tape parade, which began with color or honor guards from Naval Station Everett, Veterans of Foreign Wars and local fire and police departments.

Also in the parade were Navy dignitaries, members of the local Iraqi community, two groups of bagpipers, the Lakewood and Cascade high school bands, and Scout troops.

Parade watchers were four-deep as they lined both sides of the street while the procession marched passed to shouts of thanks and welcome back signs.

Yellow ribbons adorned buildings and posts and the sky was littered with flecks of red, white and blue as people threw confetti and streamers from the rooftops of businesses and houses along the way.

People arrived almost four hours before the 11 a.m. event in downtown Everett, setting up lawn chairs along the parade's route to guarantee themselves prime seating.

"We wanted to get the best spot," Everett resident Florence Ibea said.

Before the parade, Everett Mayor Frank Anderson joined City Council members at Colby Square in welcoming the crowd and a moment of silence was held in recognition of those who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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