USS Fitzgerald is home for repairs. Sailors who died ‘will be part of the legacy of this ship.’

The USS Fitzgerald awaited off the shore of Pascagoula on Friday morning as its crew and people from the community gathered to witness its arrival.

Tugs guided it in, past the other ships under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding, as people waved flags and about 50 crew members wearing USS Fitzgerald hats shouted a salute from the beach.

Piggy-backed aboard a transport ship, the Fitzgerald passed the other Navy and Coast Guard ships under construction at Ingalls. It will be repaired at a spot where people passing on the U.S. 90 bridge can see it for the next 18 months to 2 years.

“We are the only U.S. Navy ship homeported in Pascagoula, Mississippi,” said Cmdr. Garrett Miller.

The Fitzgerald was damaged in June off the coast of Japan during a collision with a container ship. Miller said assessments are still under way to determine the costs of repairing and modernizing the ship.

“We regularly improve our ships,” he said, and the Fitzgerald was scheduled for a mid-life electrical modernization in 2019, he said.

“We combined the repairs as well as the modernization,” he said.

USS fitzgerald p10
Crew members of the USS Fitzgerald wave to the ship as it comes in to Ingalls Shipbuilding for repairs on Friday, January 19, 2018. The destroyer was damaged when it collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan in June 2017. John Fitzhugh

He has a crew of 58 with the ship in Pascagoula now and said that will increase to a full complement of 320 when the repairs are complete and the USS Fitzgerald returns to service.

Seven crew members died during the collision and Miller said, “That will be part of the legacy of this ship.”

He added, “I will be sure they’re memorialized properly on the ship.” These sailors gave their lives for their shipmates, he said. “It’s important to remember their sacrifice. They saved a lot of their shipmates.”

Among those who witnessed the USS Fitzgerald’s arrival were local veterans and those who built and rebuilt the USS Cole after it was badly damaged in a terrorist attack.

“I worked on the Cole from the day it arrived to the day it left,” said Tom Ehlers of Pascagoula, who retired from Ingalls after 43 years.

“Oh, we can surely fix it,” Pascagoula resident Roy Bell, said as he awaited the Fitzgerald’s arrival. He built the Cole and worked on it again when it returned to Pascagoula for repairs.

“People here are passionate about what they do,” Miller said in salute to the shipbuilders at Ingalls. He said the reception by the hundreds or possibly 1,000 people who greeted the ship was “phenomenal,” and those who watched along with him said they expect an even bigger sendoff when the Fitzgerald leaves Pascagoula.

That day will send a message to the world, said Claude Toler of Ocean Springs. “This is America. this is how we treat our ships.”