EVERETT — The USS Nimitz eased along its pier, with sailors standing at attention around the perimeter of the flight deck.
The Navy’s Deception Brass Band launched into “When the Saints Go Marching In” as families counted the last few minutes before a reunion they’d been waiting on since March.
The crowd erupted into cheers as the M14 line-throwing rifle fired and the carrier’s horn blew, signaling the ship was tying in.
The holiday season started Monday for the 3,000 men and women aboard the aircraft carrier, which arrived after nine months at sea. The Nimitz covered more than 80,000 nautical miles off Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Families, many with babies, were waiting with colorful welcome-home signs at Naval Station Everett to reunite with their sailors.
Alyssa Luczak recently moved to Everett from Maine with her three boys Nat, 6, Colin, 4, and Peyton, 3, to be at their father’s homecoming. The boys held American flags and drawings of their father on the Nimitz.
“We just couldn’t not be here,” Luczak, 26, said. “As a Navy family, we have to adapt and overcome. Daddy is helping protect our freedom.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Luczak, 27, missed Peyton’s third birthday in October when the ship’s return was delayed because of the conflict in Syria.
“It was so heartbreaking to tell him daddy’s not coming home,” Luczak said. “The hardest thing is to be mom and dad, especially when they just want their dad.”
Now, the boys’ father has made it home for the holidays, and Colin’s birthday is Wednesday.
Sasha Morford, 32, of Marysville, said she postponed her 14-month-old daughter’s first birthday party after the ship’s deployment was extended. Her husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Morford, 26, already missed big moments, such as Madeline’s first steps.
“I just look at her and can’t help but see him in her,” Morford said. “As hard as it is on the homefront, what the sailors go through is immense. For them to give that up so we can have our freedom is so amazing.”
Katie Davis of Marysville knows about sacrifice for service because she recently served in the Air Force stationed in Washington, D.C.
Her family hasn’t lived together in nearly three years. Petty Officer 3rd Class Steven Davis, had to ship out when their son, Dexter, was just two weeks old.
“Don’t ever join two different branches,” Davis said.
Stephanie Curtis of Marysville gave birth to her 5-month-old daughter, Evangeline, while her husband, Petty Officer Second Class Leroy Curtis, was at sea. She successfully kept the baby’s gender secret for the first week but eventually gave in and told him.
The couple had another surprise in store Monday afternoon for their other daughter Alahni, 3, who was led to believe her father would not be coming home until next month. She was at her preschool when the carrier arrived, and he was going to surprise her there.
“I want him to bond with the girls,” Curtis said. “I did everything while he was gone.”
The hardest part of the deployment, Curtis said, was watching her husband see their new baby via a Skype Internet telephone connection but not be able to hold her.
Evangeline attended her father’s homecoming wearing an undershirt that read, “Welcome Home Daddy, I’ve waited my whole life to meet you.” But the message was covered by a jacket.
“He doesn’t get to see that until he changes a diaper,” Curtis said with a laugh. “I’ve been praying for this day for a long time.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org or Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; email@example.com.