Nancy Reagan Christens Carrier Named for Former President
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 5, 2001 It only took one swing for former first lady Nancy Reagan to break the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow of the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, named for her husband.
President George W. Bush assisted in the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan in Newport News, Va., March 4 in freezing temperatures and steady rain.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan swings a bottle of champagne at the bow of the USS Ronald Reagan, the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, which was named for her husband. President George W. Bush and Newport News Shipbuilding Chairman William P. Fricks accompany her in the ceremony March 4, 2001. Photo by Sgt. Ramona Joyce, USA.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I wish he were here," Reagan said of her husband afterward, "but in a way I think he is." Former President Ronald Reagan is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and rarely appears in public.
The christening coincided with the Reagans' 49th wedding anniversary. "We thank the Navy for giving us such a wonderful present," said the former first lady, calling the ship "such a little thing." Nancy Reagan is perhaps best remembered for introducing the "Just Say 'No'" campaign against drug use while her husband was president.
Bush took the opportunity to "rededicate American policy to Ronald Reagan's vision of optimism, modesty and resolve."
"Ronald Reagan understood that the advance of freedom depends on American strength," Bush said. "We must have a military that is second to none, and that includes a Navy that is second to none.
Today's world is different from the world in Reagan's era, Bush said. "Our present dangers ... come from rogue nations, from terrorism, from missiles that threaten our forces, our friends, our allies and our homeland," he said. "Our times call for new thinking, but the values Ronald Reagan brought to America's conduct in the world will not change."
The USS Ronald Reagan will be the Navy's ninth Nimitz-class carrier. One more is to come on line after the Reagan.
"Its crew will ... reflect the bonds of trust and respect between Americans and their military," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the 6,000 sailors who will eventually call the 1,096-foot ship home. The carrier will also house a fleet of 80 aircraft when it is delivered to the Navy in early 2003.
Bush noted the new ship has one less level to the island on its main deck than those of its predecessors. "That empty space will be filled with cables that will tie the ship into a vast network that connects information and weapons in new ways," he said. "This will revolutionize the Navy's ability to project American power over land and sea."
Other changes include a redesigned bow for improved flight operations and more living areas for women than on previous carriers, Newport News Shipbuilding officials said.
Virginia Sen. John Warner told Reagan her personal strength and courage will be given to the ship to protect its crew. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the ship "an island of democracy, sailing the seven seas bearing (President Reagan's) name."
Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy also attended the ceremony, along with several other members of Congress and of the Reagan family.