Pirate hostage captain back in U.S.

April 17, 2009 3:24:54 PM PDT
The ship captain rescued by Navy snipers from the clutches of Somali pirates said upon his triumphant arrival back in his home state Friday that he was just an ordinary seaman doing his job and he's not a hero. "I'm not a hero, the military is," said Richard Phillips a week and a half after being taken by pirates who attacked his cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama.

His wife, Andrea, and their adult children, Daniel and Mariah, went on board the corporate jet to greet him at the Burlington airport. Phillips waved to a small, cheering crowd and hugged his daughter as he walked inside a building for a private reunion.

After the brief reunion, Phillips spoke to the media and thanked the military, saying it did the impossible by saving him. He also praised his fellow crew members.

"We did it," he said. "We did what we were trained to do."

The captain, who spoke for just a couple of minutes, was freed from his ordeal on Easter Sunday, when Navy SEAL snipers shot the pirates who had been holding him at gunpoint. He was to be feted later at his home in nearby Underhill with his favorite beer, a chicken pot pie made by a friend and brownies made by his mother-in-law.

There was no immediate plan for a parade or public celebration, owing to the family's status as somewhat reluctant celebrities.

"We're respecting the family's wishes and waiting to see what they'd like to do," said Kari Papelbon, the town's zoning administrator.

But all around town, the yellow ribbons that came to symbolize Underhill's hope during the five days of Phillips' captivity fluttered in a spring breeze, with lots of late additions as his arrival drew near.

There was a "Welcome Home Captain" sign in front of the Stitch In Time yarn shop, a "Welcome Home Captain Phillips" sign in front of Browns River Middle School and a "Welcome Home Captain Phillips" tar paper sign affixed to a red barn across the street from the family's home.

Just as telling were a pair of posterboard signs on the fence in front of Phillips' home.

"Thank You for Your Prayers," said one.

"Please Give Us Some Time as a Family," said another, a polite message to members of the media and anyone else hoping to get close.

Police also had kept people away from the airport. Still, two women inspired by the bravery of Phillips, who gave himself to the pirates as a hostage to save his Maersk Alabama crew, sat in the airport's parking lot with a sign to welcome him home: "You're a good man, Captain Phillips," it read.

"We're so, so proud of him," said Lynn Coeby, of Ripton, alongside her mother, Eleanor Coeby. "We think that he has such character and morals and ethics to potentially put his life at risk for his crew, and we wanted to be here to say we think he's a good man."

Other crew members marked homecomings this week, as well. On Sunday, just days after returning to his home in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, William Rios will be in the pews at Second St. John Baptist Church.

The Rev. Robert Jones said that he has spoken to Rios since his return and that he agreed to speak during the morning service.

Jones also said Rios told him about his ordeal in a telephone conversation.

"He was very afraid," Jones said. "He said, 'I was afraid because I didn't know what was going to happen.' He's thanking God, and we're thanking God."

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Associated Press writers Marcus Franklin in New York and John Curran in Underhill, Vt., contributed to this report.

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