The U.S. Navy has commissioned a new aircraft carrier named for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush. The former leader and his son, President George W. Bush, took part in Saturday's ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. It was the ultimate honor for a decorated Navy pilot from World War II.
President Bush gave the command to put the massive, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier into commission. "I hereby place the United States Ship George H.W. Bush in commission. May God bless and guide this warship and all who shall sail in her," he said.
Mr. Bush said the enormous ship is an appropriate tribute to his father, whom he called "an awesome man." "So what do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed? Well, an aircraft carrier!"
During World War II, the president's father flew torpedo bombers off the converted aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto.
On a mission over the Pacific in 1944, Mr. Bush's plane crashed into the ocean after being hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. The future president parachuted into the sea and was rescued by a Navy submarine. He returned to combat and served until the end of the war, in 1945.
Mr. Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals for his service. On Saturday, the former president reminisced about his time in the Navy. "Being here in this ceremony takes me back 65 years to another commissioning, this one on the shipyards of Philadelphia, for the USS San Jacinto, a light carrier upon which my crewmates, very few of whom are with us today, and I were preparing to serve in World War II," he said.
The carrier that bears Mr. Bush's name is the last of its kind. The USS George H.W. Bush is the tenth and final vessel in the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the first of which was launched in 1972.
The new carrier cost $6.2 billion and took five years to build. It towers 20 stories above the waterline, has a flight deck of more than 1.8 hectares, and measures 333 meters long. (http://www.nn.northropgrumman.com/bush/facts.html) But the former president says the nearly 6,000 sailors and Marines will be the ship's main asset. "For all of the special enhancements this carrier has received, however, for all of the state-of-the-art technology, and the safety, the environmental features, the most important element will finally be added today, in the form of the men and women who will serve aboard this floating naval air station," he said.
No other former president has visited a carrier named after him. On the television talk program Fox News Sunday last week, the 84-year-old Mr. Bush said he is moved by the honor. "Well, it is very emotional for me, and it is kind of the last big thing in my life, and it is just hard to describe it," he said.
About 20,000 people attended the commissioning, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and various members of the Bush family.
The former president's daughter, Doro Bush Koch, gave the order to bring the ship to life.