NORFOLK: It is the perfect gift for an old Navy flier and former President: a brand new aircraft carrier bearing your name.
“What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed?” asked President George W. Bush from aboard the Navy’s newest ship. “Well, an aircraft carrier.”
The USS George H.W. Bush, a steel-gray vessel longer than three football fields and built at a cost of $6.2 billion, was commissioned on Saturday with its namesake, the 41st President, and other members of the Bush family on hand for the ceremonies at Naval Station Norfolk. Adorned for the day with red, white and blue bunting, the USS George H.W. Bush is one of the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the largest warships in the world.
“The ship that bears our dad’s name is more than 95,000 tons of aluminium and steel,” said Mr. Bush from a podium tucked under the flight deck. “She will carry nearly 6,000 of the finest sailors and Marines in the world. She represents the craftsmanship of many skilled builders, and thousands of hours of preparation.”
Mr. Bush, who took his last scheduled flight aboard Air Force One to get to Norfolk, added: “Laura and I are thrilled to be here to help commission an awesome ship and to honour an awesome man.”
It was the ultimate honour for former President George H.W. Bush, a decorated World War II pilot.
The former President recalled the day 65 years ago in Philadelphia when he attended the commissioning of the USS San Jacinto, a light carrier on which he served during the war. It was during that trip, he said, that he gave his fiancée, Barbara, an engagement ring. Mr. Bush, 84, joined the Navy on June 12, 1942, his 18th birthday and six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
During the war he flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals for his service.
On a mission over the Pacific in September 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.
The Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was first launched in 1972. The USS George H.W. Bush is the 10th and final vessel of its type.
A bronze statue on its hangar bay deck depicts the former President as a youthful, smiling pilot in his flight suit. — AP