Petty Officer Kyle Byrd hugs his daughter, Aleyna, 4, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. The ship was named after Pfc. Ralph Henry Johnson, who died in 1968 during the Vietnam War when he shielded two of his fellow Marines from a grenade. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Petty Officer Kyle Byrd hugs his daughter, Aleyna, 4, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. The ship was named after Pfc. Ralph Henry Johnson, who died in 1968 during the Vietnam War when he shielded two of his fellow Marines from a grenade. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A brand new destroyer arrives at its home port of Everett

The USS Ralph Johnson has a crew of more than 300, and many of their families are already here.

EVERETT — A long journey came to a highly anticipated end Friday morning at Naval Station Everett.

The USS Ralph Johnson arrived at its new home port on a cloudy day. Children ran around the docks with brightly colored, handmade signs, welcoming the sailors to their new home. “I brought you coffee,” Amy Scherer of Arlington yelled to her husband from the dock as the ship pulled in. He gave her a thumbs up from the deck.

The Navy destroyer had been under construction for the past two years. It started making its way to Everett from Charleston, South Carolina, about a month ago. The ship is named after Pfc. Ralph Henry Johnson, who shielded fellow Marines from a grenade in 1968, during the Vietnam War. Johnson was instantly killed, while his comrades lived.

Chayne Stinemetz, 90, from Bothell, was the commanding officer of Johnson’s battalion, but didn’t know him personally.

Kurt Littlejohn, 2, holds a cellphone showing his father’s face as they communicate during the arrival of the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kurt Littlejohn, 2, holds a cellphone showing his father’s face as they communicate during the arrival of the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“I had a battalion that was just pretty heroic,” Stinemetz said. “They did a lot of stuff behind enemy lines, and drew a lot of praise from people everywhere.”

Stinemetz nominated Johnson for the Medal of Honor, which he received posthumously. Johnson was 19 when he died.

Last summer, Stinemetz received a call from one of the Marines saved by Johnson. He told Stinemetz the Navy was building a ship in Johnson’s name. The ship’s commissioning ceremony was last month in Charleston, Johnson’s hometown.

“I told him, ‘You’ve got to break my hip to stop me from coming.’ And I did,” Stinemetz said.

He wasn’t able to make the commissioning ceremony, but was happy to see the ship dock in Everett. Stinemetz was able to meet Cmdr. Jason Patterson, who leads the USS Ralph Johnson’s crew of about 300.

Lt. j.g. Cara Fisher hugs her host mom, Sally Hands, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Lt. j.g. Cara Fisher hugs her host mom, Sally Hands, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Patterson has lived in Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the past two years while the boat was being built there.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Patterson said. “It’s been a lot of talking about Everett, and now we’re finally here.”

Now that the destroyer is in its home port, the sailors get about a month off to enjoy the city, Patterson said. Then it’s back to work as the ship goes through testing and maintenance.

Families have been moving to the area for about a year, many to Snohomish County. While they’re coming from all over the U.S., most lived in San Diego, California, like Meghan Warren.

Toska Littlejohn is overwhelmed with emotion as she spots her husband, electronics technician Kurt Littlejohn, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Toska Littlejohn is overwhelmed with emotion as she spots her husband, electronics technician Kurt Littlejohn, after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Warren moved to Mount Vernon in February with her 1-year-old daughter, MaryJo.

“I told her this morning, ‘Daddy’s coming home today,’ and she got excited and ran around the house,” Warren said.

Warren’s daughter might be too young to understand what’s happening, but she missed her dad, Warren said.

She and her husband, Brock Warren, have been apart since July. He’s been able to visit, though. The last time she saw him was at the commissioning ceremony.

Chayne Stinemetz, 90, of Bothell, talks with Cmdr. Jason Patterson after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. The ship was named for Pfc. Ralph Henry Johnson, a Marine who died in 1968 during the Vietnam War. Stinemetz was the commanding officer of the battalion in which Johnson served. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Chayne Stinemetz, 90, of Bothell, talks with Cmdr. Jason Patterson after the Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson arrived at Naval Station Everett on Friday. The ship was named for Pfc. Ralph Henry Johnson, a Marine who died in 1968 during the Vietnam War. Stinemetz was the commanding officer of the battalion in which Johnson served. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Warren had plans for her husband once he got off the ship.

“Honestly, it sounds so silly, but I’m taking him grocery shopping,” she said. “He does not know that’s going to happen, so I’m going to have to break it to him.”

He shouldn’t mind, she said. It’s a little bit of normalcy.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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