Thank you. It’s a real honor to be here to represent [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld on this glorious day, this important occasion.
Mrs. [Nancy] Reagan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, including our many veterans here today … Captain [James A.] Symonds, officers and members of the crew of the Reagan.
A special welcome to that wonderful Congressional delegation that you just heard from. They are all strong supporters of the Defense Department and the military. And I thank them.
And I would extend a special thanks to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee [Congressman Duncan Hunter] from whom you just heard. Thank you, Duncan, for your service in uniform, thank you for your service today as Chairman of the Committee, and thank you for your son’s service on the front lines in Fallujah and Iraq. [Applause]
Most of all a special welcome and a special thank you to the families of the crew of the Ronald Reagan. Our Navy couldn’t be what it is, our military couldn’t be what it is, without the support and the sacrifice of families. And I know that one of those sacrifices is being separated from your loved ones for long periods of time. And every speech that we make here is separating you a few more minutes. But this is an important occasion, about which a great deal needs to be said. So bear with us for a few more minutes. Thank you.
Ronald Reagan once said that the closest thing to eternal life on this earth is a government bureaucracy. And those of you who have been to Washington may know that the single largest government building in the District of Columbia is named after Ronald Reagan. I’ve spoken in that building a number of times, and I’ve always wondered what that President, that apostle of small government, would think about having that building named after him.
But, ladies and gentlemen, I know how he felt about the US Navy and all the other branches of America’s Armed Forces. And there’s no doubt about it —this ship is a mammoth government-owned structure. But it’s also crewed by the people that Ronald Reagan most liked and admired: those who wear the uniform of this great country. And this ship — like the man for whom it’s named -- will always be a symbol of valor and human freedom. So I know — I am absolutely certain — this is one government project that Ronald Reagan would be thrilled to have his name on. [Applause]
And while we’re speaking of things that made Ronald Reagan proud … Ladies and gentlemen, the nation has seen extraordinary strength from this wonderful lady who is here with us today. Mrs. Reagan, we saw you lead us through a time of sad farewell. Members of our Armed Forces appreciate courage in all its forms, and you have displayed it over and over again. They felt your quiet dignity, your unwavering strength. So on their behalf, let me thank you for your example … our heartfelt gratitude to you for what you’ve done during that very difficult time. [Applause]
But it’s more than that. Mrs. Reagan always went to the families of our service members in their grief. She sought them out and embraced them, after the tragedies of Beirut and Newfoundland and the USS Stark. Mrs. Reagan, they always felt your love for our Armed Forces. And on behalf of them, we all thank you. [Applause]
During that unforgettable week last month, President Reagan’s stories came back to us once again. One of his favorites was the one he told a graduating class of naval officers at Annapolis. It’s about the time he was filming that movie that Congressman [Randy “Duke”] Cunningham referred to, “Hellcats of the Navy,” the one that had a young woman named Nancy Reagan as his leading lady. “Hellcats” was a movie about a submarine during World War II, and most of it was filmed right here in San Diego.
It seems that when they were making the picture, the pilots at the naval air station invited some submariners to ride on some Navy aircraft. The pilots made sure that they gave the submariners some complicated aerial maneuvers that tested the endurance of their stomachs — or as President Reagan put it, they gave them “the works.”
And according to the President, that group of what he called “somewhat upset” submariners decided to return the favor. So, once everyone was aboard the submarine, they took it into a dive. Pretty soon, alarms were going off, lights were flashing, people were running everywhere. With nervous voices, the submariners explained to their guests the dial that showed the sub was still in a dive. They were having trouble pulling out, they said. And if the dial passed a certain point, the sub wouldn’t be able to take the pressure. As that dial got closer and closer to the red line, it looked like Davey Jones’ locker for everyone on board -- until a sailor went into the conning tower, opened the hatch, and they were still tied to the dock! [Laughter]
As Lady Margaret Thatcher -- the great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom -- reminded us, Ronald Reagan’s “easy [humor] gave reassurance to an anxious world.”
And that, in a very real sense, is what we pay tribute to today in welcoming home this great warship.
In an anxious world, American naval superiority has been peace’s necessary reassurance. The USS Ronald Reagan is our Navy’s newest crown jewel, an amazing advance in technology that adds measurably to America’s strength, which is “the bedrock of the free world’s security,” as President Reagan once described that strength.
It is entirely appropriate that the motto of this great ship is one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite expressions, “Peace Through Strength.” And it is also appropriate that this great ship takes up residence here in the waters off California’s beautiful coast.
In joining America’s Pacific Fleet, the Reagan will carry on the legacy of a man from California who was accustomed to gazing across that vast Pacific Ocean and seeing a world of opportunity and optimism beyond the horizon, a man who had faith in freedom for people everywhere.
And because of that faith, the world has been changed for the better. And not only did the Soviet Empire disappear, the Pacific too would never be the same. As this ship plies the waters of that mighty ocean, her crew will help to protect and advance President Reagan’s legacy of freedom.
As a man best and properly remembered for what he accomplished with the Soviet Union in bringing an end to the Cold War, it is easy to overlook Ronald Reagan’s important role in Asia. But as Ronald Reagan looked west, he saw the promise of the Pacific. He understood both instinctively and from long experience that powerful forces for good were at work in this part of the world.
I was fortunate to work for President Reagan on East Asian and Pacific matters when I served as his Assistant Secretary of State for this region, and then as his ambassador to Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population of any in the world. President Reagan’s policy for this region was always clear — everything he did was to protect freedom and advance the cause of democratic reform.
There was a time 20 years ago when people said that the Philippines could do no better than the dictator they had, a man named Ferdinand Marcos, when people said that Koreans and Chinese didn’t care about freedom or that they were incapable of democracy because they’d never had it before in their histories. Such assertions – like similar assertions today about Arabs and Muslims – ran counter to what President Reagan devoutly believed. As he put it in a historic address to the British Parliament in 1982, “It would be cultural condescension,” President Reagan said, “or even worse to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.”
I was privileged to accompany him and Mrs. Reagan on his first official visit – the first ever official visit -- by an American president to the People’s Republic of China, 20 years ago this April. There, he talked openly about freedom and democracy, even though the rulers of China weren’t exactly happy to hear it.
In the Philippines, he and his great Secretary of State, George Shultz, initiated a persistent effort to prod that dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, to embrace democratic change. Supported by America’s firm insistence, in 1986 the Philippine people finally forced Marcos to step down. President Reagan’s support had helped to turn that country from dictatorship to democracy.
And the following year, we saw a similar development in South Korea. President Reagan told the South Korean dictator of the time that the time had come for change. And not long after that, Taiwan began to demonstrate that Chinese people, too, craved freedom and democratic self-government.
Why do I say all of that? Because it’s still relevant today. Today, President Reagan would be gratified at how America’s Armed Forces have helped to liberate some 50 million people, most of them Muslims, from two evil dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Reagan would recognize the emergence of two new allies in the free world. He would see the stirrings of democracy among people with the courage to choose liberty over tyranny. And he would certainly lend his strong and steady support once again, undeterred by those who would suggest that democracy cannot work in the Arab world, or by those who would suggest that the United States should retreat in the face of evil.
I think Ronald Reagan would remind those critics of America’s conviction, of our creed. As he put it, “freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.” [Applause]
Today is indeed a day to celebrate Ronald Reagan’s legacy of freedom and to celebrate the fact that one of the Navy’s crown jewels is named after him … fitting to recognize that Ronald Reagan’s name will be keeping company with other towering giants like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Harry Truman, and Theodore Roosevelt.
But, I know that what Ronald Reagan would be most proud of in this ship is not its hardware, but its people. What Ronald Reagan would be most proud of are the men and women who are the lifeblood of this great ship.
This past Monday, I was privileged to be present when a group of wounded heroes from Iraq, men and women, met President [George W.] Bush at the White House. There was also a delegation of Iraqis there as well — Iraqi women who are active leaders in building a new free society. They’d come to Washington to learn more about elections and campaigning and about government in a democratic society. When they met these American heroes who were their liberators, they embraced them, and they thanked them over and over, through tears of joy. And one Iraqi woman summed up the feeling of the group this way: There would have been no opportunity, she said, for Iraqi women to be learning about democracy were it not for the sacrifice of American servicemen and women.
America needs this great ship for the defense of freedom. So Captain Symonds, I know that your crew is ready to play their part in that awesome and noble mission. They’ve already proven their great mettle in bringing this ship to life. I know they will honor the legacy of Ronald Reagan. I know they will make him proud. [Applause]
So thank you again for joining us for this great occasion. May God bless this ship and her crew. And may God bless America. Thank you.