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Homecoming set for U.S. pirate hostage

The cargo ship skipper held hostage for five days by Somali pirates will be feted with a "community celebration" at a park in his hometown, organizers said Thursday.
Image: Capt. Richard Phillips
Capt. Richard Phillips, center, hugs his children after arriving on a plane in South Burlington, Vt., Friday, April 17. He's flanked by his son, Daniel, and daughter Mariah. Toby Talbot / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s no ticker-tape parade, just a bring-your-own picnic in a local park. But for reluctant hero Richard Phillips, it’s just what the captain ordered.

Phillips, the cargo ship skipper held hostage for five days in a lifeboat by Somali pirates, will be feted with a “community celebration” Saturday in his hometown of Underhill.

The event, scheduled for noon, will be held at Mills Riverside Park, a 216-acre area with a covered bridge, a pond and commanding views of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak.

“He’s a hero,” said Livy Strong, one of the organizers. “And I think everyone has had this strong desire to celebrate his safe return and at the same time respect the privacy of his family. It’s been a balancing act.”

The event, announced Thursday, is open to the public and is expected to be attended by Phillips and his family.

Phillips, whose only public statements about his Indian Ocean ordeal came in a brief appearance upon his return to Vermont on April 17, won’t take questions or do interviews.

The program includes remarks by Phillips; his wife, Andrea; Gov. Jim Douglas; and Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont’s lone congressman.

Bring your own lunch and chair
Tammy Fletcher, a singer, will sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and singer-guitarist Bobby Hackney will also perform. Both are Phillips family favorites.

A news release announcing the event Thursday said it’s bring your own — lunch and chair.

“Vermonters are invited to attend and show their appreciation for Captain Phillips’ selflessness and bravery. The Phillips family will thank the state and indeed the world for all of the positive thoughts and prayers during their difficult ordeal,” it said.

Phillips couldn’t be reached for comment. A telephone message left at his home was not returned, nor was an e-mail seeking comment from Alison McColl, a representative of Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk shipping lines who is acting as the family’s spokeswoman.

“We are all looking forward to having a chance to celebrate this wonderful hero in our midst, and have an opportunity to celebrate as a community,” said Strong, who chairs the Jericho-Underhill Park District, which operates the park.

Phillips is captain of the Maersk Alabama, a U.S.-flagged cargo ship that was attacked by pirates off Somalia on April 8. He was freed Easter Sunday when U.S. Navy snipers killed three of his captors.

He says they’re the heroes.

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