The crowd cheered, the band played a patriotic tune, and passengers waved to those waiting below as the S.S. John W. Brown pulled into port in Baltimore yesterday, bringing home nearly 400 men who fought in World War II.
Of course, it was 50 years after the war ended.
But to many of those taking part, this re-enactment of a wartime homecoming was an emotional experience as real as the day they returned in 1945.
"It gives me goose bumps," said Doris Cornes, of Kingsville, as her husband Edward waved from the restored Liberty ship as a couple tugboats nudged it into dock near the Harborview condominiums off Key Highway.
"He didn't get this kind of homecoming" in 1945, she said, adding that her husband, a former prisoner of war, arrived by ship in New York and was transported to Fort Meade before the Army notified her he was back in the United States.
The men -- most now in their 70s, some wearing medals and a few sporting World War II uniforms -- boarded the Brown at Dundalk Marine Terminal, its temporary home, for the short ride to the Harborview.
It was one of several events in a weekend commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. The celebration, sponsored by the Baltimore Maritime Museum, veterans groups and military museums, concludes today.
Jeanette Parmigiani of Howard County brought her husband, brother and two sisters to celebrate her father's homecoming.
"Welcome home, Barney Goldberg, USMC," read the sign she held high as the massive gray ship edged close to the bulkhead. Waving small American flags at her hip were four of Mr. Goldberg's 28 grandchildren.
Mr. Goldberg, a tactical observer in the Marine Corps in Okinawa, returned via San Diego on a much smaller ship in November 1945. "They were putting people on anything that would float," he said. "But I didn't mind. We were young and enthusiastic."
About 2,700 Liberty ships were built during World War II to carry cargo, ammunition and troops to the Allies. The John Brown is one of only two such ships surviving and the only one afloat on the East Coast. It was built in Baltimore's Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in 1942.
For Ocean City's Joseph C. Sangdermano, a former Army tank driver and POW, the re-enactment was an emotional experience. He had tears in his eyes as the vets disembarked single file down the gangplank while musicians from Chesapeake and Annapolis high schools played the music of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington.
"I loved it," he said after the ship had emptied. "But it fills you up because it's still unbelievable that I'm back here alive in this country. It can't help but bring back bad memories of how badly we were treated [as prisoners]."
The "Victory" celebration continues today, with ceremonies and displays in Rash Field, including a color guard parade at 2 p.m. The John Brown will be open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the dock at Harborview, off Key Highway. Parking is free.