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Hostage captain: 'I'm not a hero, the military is'

The unassuming ship captain who escaped the clutches of Somali pirates said upon his arrival home Friday that he was just an ordinary seaman doing his job and not a hero.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The unassuming ship captain who escaped the clutches of Somali pirates said upon his triumphant arrival home Friday that he was just an ordinary seaman doing his job, not a hero, and he praised the Navy for its daring rescue mission.

"They're the superheroes," Richard Phillips said. "They're the titans. They're impossible men doing an impossible job, and they did the impossible with me. ... They're at the point of the sword every day, doing an impossible job every day."

Phillips was saved on Easter Sunday, when Navy snipers killed three pirates with three simultaneous nighttime gunshots.

"I'm not a hero, the military is," he said, appearing healthy and invigorated at a brief airport news conference shortly after his arrival.

Phillips' wife, Andrea, and their adult children, Daniel and Mariah, went on board the corporate jet to greet him at the Burlington airport. Phillips, wearing a cap from the USS Bainbridge destroyer, which rescued him, waved to a small, cheering crowd and hugged his daughter as he walked inside a building for a private reunion.

He later emerged to praise his fellow crew members of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship.

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

When Phillips was rescued, his arms were bound. On Friday, abrasions and scabs could be seen on the insides of his forearms. Asked what the high-seas hostage experience was like, he said: "Indescribable, indescribable."

The captain, who spoke for just a couple of minutes, was to be feted later at his home in nearby Underhill with his favorite beer and a homemade meal.

Police escort
After his airport appearance, Phillips, 53, was driven home in a dark sport utility vehicle, a Vermont State Police cruiser leading the way into the small rural community where he lives, past freshly tilled farm fields, a pen with spring lambs in it and clusters of neighbors who came out of their houses to wave as he passed.

He doffed the baseball cap and waved it out the window as he passed Chamberlin's Garden & Farm Market, where four cars sat idling, their drivers honking their horns.

Arriving at his small white farmhouse, he found it festooned with ribbons, "Welcome Home" balloons and signs, with a flag-waving contingent of about 25 people standing on the other side of the road, cheering.

"To be able to come home, safe and sound, from such a harrowing experience ... oh, how Andrea's heart must be filled with joy right now," said Kathy Wright, of neighboring Jericho, a friend who waved red, white and blue pompoms when Phillips' vehicle pulled into the driveway.

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.

Yellow ribbons of hope
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.

'He's a good man'
"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."

In West Hartford, Conn., Maersk Alabama crew member ATM "Zahid" Reza, who was steering the ship and stabbed one of the pirates when they attacked, said he'll avoid the shipping lanes off Somalia from now on because it's too dangerous there.

He returned home to his wife and 6-year-old son Friday afternoon and was greeted by neighbors holding welcome home signs. He said he was looking forward to some sleep and time with his family.

"I feel now it's peace and quiet," he said. "I'm so glad to see my wife, my son."

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