Back Home, Sea Captain Hails Military

Capt. Richard Phillips tips his hat to the sailors of the USS Bainbridge after arriving on a plane in South Burlington, Vt., Friday, April 17, 2009. At rear is his daughter, Mariah.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot
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 SEAL 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.

His daughter Mariah just couldn't wait to welcome her father home, sprinting up the steps of his charter flight ahead of the rest of his family to greet him, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axlerod.

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."

From all accounts in his hometown, Phillips is a pure and selfless hero - and a reluctant celebrity, reports Axelrod.

"This is not one our typical homecomings," said his wife Andrea. "And now that Richard's back, I just ask that you give us some time for us to be a family again."

Deb Moore wouldn't expect anything else from the Phillips family except a request for privacy -- having worked for a decade as a nurse alongside Andrea Phillips, the captain's wife, reports Axelrod.

"They just have done amazing things. But maybe not to him," Moore said. "Maybe it's not so amazing to him."

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, a chicken pot pie made by a friend and brownies made by his mother-in-law. He was greeted outside the by two dozen people waving American flags.

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."

Phillips was unable to join the crew of the Maersk Alabama when it was greeted early Thursday by a cheering crowd at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.