SAN DIEGO -- Just in time for Christmas, sailors and Marines aboard the USS Peleliu Wednesday returned to a joyful throng of loved ones at Naval Base San Diego.
"I slept for an hour and a half last night," said Jessica Sharbono. "I am so excited for this homecoming."
Sharbono was waiting for her husband Dustin. Jessica was the winner of the first kiss raffle.
"It means after the commanders disembark, Dustin will be first off the ship," said Jessica.
The USS Peleliu pulled into port just after 10am, returning from her final voyage.
"This is the last of the Tarawa class of Amphibious assault ships," said Captain Paul Spedero. "There were five built, the Tarawa was the first in class and this is the last remaining one."
Starting next year, the Navy is expected to replace them with America-class amphibious assault ships, which are designed to carry helicopters and other small aircraft that can help transport troops from ship to shore more easily.
During its final deployment, the Peleliu conducted exercises throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and made port visits in Guam, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. The deployment lasted about six months.
“Peleliu and her crew performed superbly throughout the deployment...I am proud to have served with such outstanding sailors and Marines during the ship's final deployment,” said Commodore Heidi Agle, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11.
Added the ship's skipper, Capt. Paul Spedero: “The crew routinely stepped up and exceeded my expectations during this challenging final deployment and I know that would not have been possible without the enormous support of our families and friends back at home.”
For family and friends, they only found out the USS Peleliu was coming home 2 days ago.
"We had to guess hopefully they’d be home for Christmas, we were definitely crossing our fingers," said Jessica.
Sharbono was the first to greet her husband as he came off the ship, jumping into his arms and giving him a very long first kiss.
"It's amazing, incredible and she's all mine," said Dustin Sharbono, sailor.
The ship is scheduled to be decommissioned in March after 34 years of service.
The Peleliu was named for the World War II Battle of Peleliu, during which 1,256 Marines died while fighting to gain control of the small island, part of the nation of Palau.