A rebuilt and combat-ready USS Cole set sail Friday from a Pascagoula shipyard after a ceremonial send-off watched by thousands of flag-waving local residents and workers.
The Cole returned to the sea 18 months after a crippling terrorist attack in Yemen left 17 sailors dead.
The Cole, gleaming in the day's bright sunlight at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Ingalls Shipyard, had undergone repairs for 14 months.
New features include 17 stars laid in the hallway floor - one for each of the sailors killed when an explosion tore a hole in the ship's side.
Navy leaders said Friday that the Cole's return to the fleet is a clear and confident sign of America's commitment to overcome international terrorism.
The event for the Cole was as much a tribute to the hundreds of shipyard workers who handled repairs as it was a farewell to the destroyer, said Rear Adm. John G. Morgan Jr., commander of the USS Enterprise Battle Group. Morgan said he wanted to thank those workers who toiled for the past 14 months restored the crippled vessel that was bombed in Yemen Oct. 12, 2000.
"Our job is to do the nation's work ... around the world, around the clock. That's the gift you've given us,'' Morgan said.
The Cole is headed home to Norfolk, Va. At dawn Friday, sailors made their way aboard the Cole, carrying duffle bags and other personal items, while Ingalls workers made final preparations for a few send-off speeches by Navy officials and Ingalls executives. Many sailors shook hands with workers as they arrive at the shipyard.