Vanessa Raulston said she and Abigail, her 2-year-old, had a picture of her sailor husband next to the bed, and talked to it every night. Starting Christmas Eve, it’ll be the real thing.

Just in time for the holiday, sailors and Marines aboard the USS Peleliu Wednesday returned to a joyful throng of loved ones at Naval Base San Diego. Some saw their children for the first time.

Asked about how she felt, Tracy Davis, with twins in tow, said: “I’m relieved. I told the kids that Santa is bringing Daddy home for Christmas.”

She added: “If it had been one day longer, I don’t know if I could have survived.”

Originally set to return Dec. 19, the Peleliu peeled off for duty in the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Hagupit.

Jessica Sharbono said her husband, Dustin, won the lottery for the ceremonial first kiss after landing.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I wasn’t sure when they were going to come back.”

The 820-foot-long, 25-ton-plus amphibious assault ship will be decommissioned in March after 34 years of service, during which it deployed 17 times and covered millions of miles, according to Naval Surface Forces’ public affairs office.

The Peleliu is the last of the Navy’s five Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships to be in service. The Navy began decommissioning that class of warship in 2005.

Starting next year, the Navy is expected to replace them with America-class amphibious assault ships, which are designed to carry helicopters and other small aircraft that can help transport troops from ship to shore more easily.

During its final deployment, the Peleliu conducted exercises throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and made port visits in Guam, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. The deployment lasted about six months.

“Peleliu and her crew performed superbly throughout the deployment… I am proud to have served with such outstanding sailors and Marines during the ship’s final deployment,” said Commodore Heidi Agle, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11.

Added the ship’s skipper, Capt. Paul Spedero: “The crew routinely stepped up and exceeded my expectations during this challenging final deployment and I know that would not have been possible without the enormous support of our families and friends back at home.”

The Peleliu was named for the World War II Battle of Peleliu, during which 1,256 Marines died while fighting to gain control of the small island, part of the nation of Palau.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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