SOUTHPORT -- Another high profile visitor came up the Cape Fear River this afternoon. Wilmington is home to two North Carolinas tonight: the battleship and America's newest nuclear submarine. The new North Carolina will be commissioned here on Saturday. With the help of two tugs pushing piggy back on the perpendicular, the sub, also known by the navy as SSN 777, docked smoothly at the port. The navy and Coast Guard made an overtly strong show of security on the dock and along the river. A host of local dignitaries and the Hoggard High Marching band provided the welcome as Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo beamed. While it is certainly special to have the sub here in the city of Wilmington, it also holds special meaning to people in other parts of our area. Three cannon shots sounded the traditional salute to the USS North Carolina as it passed by Southport, its conning tower plowing through the Cape Fear River. Elmer Norwood remembered his days on a submarine, The Thornback. The Vietnam era vet says the first time he ever saw Southport was through a periscope. Norwood said, "I can feel a little bit of what the fellas on the submarine are feeling right now." Many waited for hours just to see the submarine pass. Some were surprised by its majestic beauty. "Folks in Southport can still remember the day in 1961 when the battleship NC passed through these waters. So the newest NC passing through is particularly important because of the town's rich maritime history," Norwood said. NC Maritime Museum historian Jim McKee said, "Looking through some of the pictures of that day it's amazing how things have changed; it's also amazing the excitement that people still have." There have actually been five ships named USS North Carolina before this one. "The North Carolina today passed right by the grave of the confederate vessel and she'll be within sight of her latest namesake," McKee said. Everyone who lives here knows where the last battleship with that name rests, and now, with the latest ship to bear our state's name, future generations are watching history in the making. The sub's captain Mark Davis said they heard the cannon blasts aboard the sub.
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