As sailors stood proudly aboard the USS Cole, below, their families, friends and Ingalls workers joined military dignitaries on Pier Five for a patriotic send-off.
"Today, we look forward, forward to the determined warrior returning to her place in the active fleet," Supervisor of Shipbuilding Capt. Phillip Johnson.
Those who gathered at the Pascagoula shipyard also remembered the 17 sailors who were killed when terrorists attacked the Cole in October, 2000. For many people, the Aegis Destroyer has become a symbol of democracy and freedom. Her return to duty sends a confident message that America is determined to overcome terrorism.
"We all now see that the attack on Cole was really the first strike against the U.S. in this war. The attack on Cole began to chart the course towards the war on terrorism in Afghanistan," Assistant Secretary of Navy John Young said.
Military leaders praised the men and women at Ingalls who labored for the past 15 months to restore the crippled vessel back to her glory.
"You guys and gals who are wearing those dusty coveralls, those hard hats, those welder's goggles, through your brains and your brawn you have given us gift. That gift is this 550 feet of American fighting steel," Rear Adm. John Morgan, Cruiser Destroyer Group Commander, said.
"I want to thank the shipbuilders, on behalf of this company, on behalf of this shipyard, who put their heart and soul into the restoration of this ship which they have built so they can join in the effort to show that when America is bloodied, she is not bowed," Northrop Grumman Executive Philip Dur said.
"The American people, and certainly the people in this shipyard, wanted to do everything in their power to put this ship back into place, so she can continue to protect America's interests and the freedoms we take for granted."
"Ingalls Shipyard may not build the most ships, but there is not a doubt in my mind that you build the world's greatest ships, and this ship is a testimony of your hard work," Rep. Gene Taylor said.
An hour later, under bright, sunny skies, the rebuilt and combat-ready warship returned to the open seas.
"I have told the crew these past few months, our goal is not to leave Pascagoula, nor is our goal trying to get back to Norfolk. Our goal is to take the Cole to sea and start the training and operating as a key member of the Enterprise Battle Group. Admiral Morgan, I feel Cole is ready. I know the crew is ready," Cole Cmdr. Kevin Sweeney said.
Rear Adm. John Morgan issued the first order for the Cole.
"I want you to sail proud from this harbor. I want you to join a long line of ships in the Atlantic fleet. I want you to know that you are joining a great team, and I want you to go with God."
Cmdr. Kevin Sweeney also thanked the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast for their dedication and support for the sailors and for treating the Cole as their ship.