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Soviet ships steam out of Norfolk Naval Base

By MITCHELL MILLER

NORFOLK, Va. -- The historic visit of three Soviet warships to the largest U.S. naval installation ended Tuesday with American sailors freeing their ropes from port and waving white hats as the ships steamed to sea.

Hundreds of Soviet and American sailors, who had developed a boisterous camaraderie during the five-day visit, stood in their pressed white uniforms, staring at each other for the final time as the Soviet ships pulled away from the Norfolk Naval Station.

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'They're just like Americans, I guess,' said sailor Trampas Wright, 24, of Columbia, S.C., as he took a last look at his Soviet counterparts. 'They like to have fun and drink and look at a lot of girls.'

The destroyer Otlichny departed at 9:30 a.m., followed by the oiler Genrikh Gasanov. A Soviet band aboard the guided-missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov played 'Stars and Stripes' as its gangplank was slowly lifted off of Pier 7 and onto the ship.

The Soviet sailors slowly waved their hats in the air as the Ustinov steamed away. The Americans returned the gesture.

The Soviet flagship delivered one final horn blast as it left at 10 a.m. EDT, an American flag flying atop the vessel.

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Soon after the last ship left port, Vice Adm. Jerome L. Johnson told a news conference the U.S. Navy had 'established a very fine rapport' with the Soviets. The commander of the 2nd Fleet said he hoped more naval visits will follow.

'There did not seem to be a hidden agenda on the part of the Soviet visitors here,' Johnson said. 'At no time did they talk about disarmament or arms control or operating areas, or operating restrictions.'

Soviet officials said the ships were not carrying nuclear weapons.

The Soviet naval visit, the second of its kind to a U.S. port since World War II, will be reciprocated in August when three U.S. ships visit Sevastopol for five days.

'On behalf of all the crews, we wish the Americans to be healthy, to be always merry (and) prosperity,' said Alexander Yakovlev, a captain 1st rank of the Soviet Navy.

On Monday night, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Band, the Soviet Navy Band and a song and dance troupe gave a free performance, attended by more than 8,000 people.

The Soviet sailors, numbering about 1,100, toured the base in Norfolk, participated in naval training sessions and went aboard U.S. ships, including an aircraft carrier.

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Their most visible mission, however, appeared to be simply having a good time with U.S. sailors. They rode a roller coaster at Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, attended outdoor cookouts, ate at a pizza parlor and McDonald's and toured a miscellany of stores during the whirlwind tour.

'The (American) people are uninhibited, outgoing and friendly, not secretive or secluded,' Alexander Sokolov, a senior lieutenant, said through an interpreter.

Some Soviet analysts called the naval visit a propaganda ploy but U.S. sailors said they felt a genuine bonding with their Soviet counterparts after sharing experiences for several days.

'One very wise (Soviet) sailor ... told me, 'You know the people who should be down here are the leaders, both from Washington and from Moscow,'' said Lt. David Schulenburg, an interpreter for the Atlantic Fleet.

'They're the ones that should be getting to know each other, feeling less insecure about each other,' Schulenburg said.

About 1,200 American sailors will be aboard the three U.S. ships when they visit the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea the first week of August. The three ships are the USS Belknap, flagship of the Mediterranean's U.S. 6th Fleet; the Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Thomas Gates and the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman.

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