NORFOLK, SEPT. 8 -- They never fired a shot, and that left some sailors aboard the USS Scott both relieved and, frankly, a little disappointed.

The first U.S. warship to return home from the Middle East standoff with Iraq slipped into Pier 25 of the world's largest naval base here this morning, its 350 crew members warmly greeted by wives, parents and children who had feared this day might never come.

Still, even with the cheering crowd and the waving American flags, the homecoming was a bit anticlimactic for some aboard the guided missile destroyer, which flirted with war both off the Liberian coast and in the Red Sea intercepting Iraqi-bound ships, but never saw any real action. The closest thing to a confrontation came when the Scott ordered a Cypriot-flagged ship carrying aluminum sulfate and lumber to turn around, which it did.

"We wouldn't mind doing a little combat. That's what we're in the military for," said Charles Helms, 22, a third-class petty officer from Indiana who, like many of his shipmates, was both happy and sorry to be back. "I wouldn't mind going into a little action, but I'm glad to be back home in one piece."

The ship's commanding officer, Capt. T.C. Corcoran, agreed that there was a general sense of wanting to be in the thick of the action, much like the feelings of a little boy.

Standing on the deck in front of a pair of Standard anti-aircraft missiles poised to fire, he added, "Whatever little boy part that's in all of us will quickly be overcome by the big boy part of being home with loved ones. There's a certain coming down . . . but we're all delighted to be here."

Corcoran, who set up a "war room" to brief sailors on the latest information while at sea, said he was proud of the ship's performance. "I felt like Beverly Sills must have felt when she performed the best opera she ever did," he said.

The Scott and the other 10 ships in the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower's battle group are returning to Norfolk at the end of their regular six-month deployment, as scheduled, despite some of the ships' detour through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea last month.

After several weeks of supporting the U.S. mobilization and embargo effort in the Middle East, the "Ike" battle group was relieved by the hastily assembled USS John F. Kennedy battle group that scrambled out of Norfolk Naval Station more than three weeks ago.

Two other ships docked here today, the destroyer USS Peterson, which aided the U.S. evacuation of Americans from civil war-torn Liberia, and the replenishment oiler USS Savannah. Three other ships involved with the Liberian mission returned Friday. The Eisenhower and the USS Ticonderoga are expected Wednesday, while other ships return to other home ports.

The flurry of homecomings are a welcome change for a city that has been saying a lot of farewells recently.

Home of the Atlantic Fleet, Norfolk has dispatched 31,000 men and women to the Persian Gulf region, not only dampening spirits of family and friends, but also quieting the cash registers of local businesses. More than 2,700 sailors returned in the last 48 hours and thousands more will step onto the docks in the coming days.

"This is a Navy town and it's just been devastating," said Norfolk native Brenda Parker, 25, as she stood on the pier waiting to greet her 21-year-old nephew, Wade Foreman, a cook on the Scott. "We were so worried. It was his first six-month {deployment} and it was just hard . . . . He's just a couple years younger than me, but I still think of him being a kid."

The jubilant scene under overcast skies at the piers today was much like any homecoming for ships that were away for six months -- a sea of flowers, flags, balloons and homemade signs, a tent with doughnuts and coffee, even a fellow named George Tryon dressed up in an Uncle Sam outfit complete with his own gray whiskers.

For Lt. Jesse Holder, who grew up in Alexandria and now serves on the Peterson, today's homecoming was a pleasant 27th birthday present. "When you're gone for six months, you're just glad to be home," he said.

Once back, Helms and four of his young bachelor buddies from the Scott wasted little time getting to what they truly missed while on the open sea.

After checking into a motel, they threw on civilian jeans and T-shirts and moseyed across the street to Nick's, a bar popular with returning sailors that features go-go dancers at night. There, before noon, they began drinking the first of what they intended to be many beers before the day was through.

Boatsmate 3rd Class Travis Barchenger, 22, summed up succinctly what he missed: "Beer. Women."

The rest laughed and nodded.