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Public Papers - 1990 - July

Remarks at the Christening of the U.S.S. George Washington in Newport News, Virginia

1990-07-21

Thank you very much. What a great day in Newport News. And to all of you out there, thank you for the warm welcome. And Dick Cheney, our able Secretary of Defense, thank you, sir, for those kind words.

You know, we're living in changing times, very exciting times for world peace. We're living in tough times in a lot of ways. But it is so important that we have an able Secretary of Defense leading for our country's best interests, our security interests. And I just want to say to this marvelous gathering today, I can think of no one better to be Secretary of Defense at this critical time than Dick Cheney. I am blessed to have him at my side.

And I'm very proud to have other strong supporters of defense with us today: Our distinguished Senator from Virginia, Chuck Robb, a longtime friend and a strong supporter of all that the Navy undertakes. And it's a pleasure to see the Tidewater contingent from Congress -- Herb Bateman and Owen Pickett, Norm Sisisky -- all who understand the Navy's mission, all who understand national defense. And of course, I'll single out one other Member of Congress I recognize -- though he's known as ``B - 1'' Bob Dornan from California, he, too, a strong supporter -- Congressman Dornan. I don't want to reminisce too long, but I see Senator Harry Byrd out here. Harry, stand up -- [applause] -- a great Virginian and another one who has stood for defense. Ed Campbell, my thanks to you, sir, president of Newport News Shipbuilding. And then my dear friend from Houston, Jim Kettleson, who is the CEO of Tenneco. Secretary Larry Garrett -- doing a superb job for the Navy; and of course, our new CNO [Chief of Naval Operations], my friend Admiral Kelso; all our other distinguished guests.

I am very pleased to be here this morning with my daughter, Dorothy. She's today's matron of honor. And I know that Barbara -- the Silver Fox, we call her -- [laughter] -- is deeply honored that you've chosen her to christen this magnificent ship, the George Washington.

Coming to the shipyards today put me in mind of my first government job that Dick referred to. I was commissioned at the age 18, an ensign in the Navy and a carrier pilot, and things were quite different then. The planes were slower. The ships were smaller. And as I look around at these admirals and some of the enlisted men and women that I've been privileged to meet with, they all seem a lot younger today. Captain Nutwell looks too young to drive a great big ship like this. [Laughter]

But what I think it sums up to is that I've been told by our Chief of Naval Operations, by General Powell, by the other Chiefs, that we have never had finer officers or enlisted men and women in the armed services than we have today. And they look young to me, but they're the best, and we are very, very proud of them. I don't want to get too nostalgic here -- notice my Navy tie, however. [Laughter] But on my ship, the San Jacinto -- it was one of those ``fast carriers,'' built atop a cruiser hull in the early months of our entry into the war -- the deck wasn't much wider than the wing span of the plane I flew, a TBF Grumman Avenger. Now, looking up at the Washington, I'm not sure that the San Jacinto itself wouldn't fit on a hangar deck of this behemoth here.

For all of you -- and I now speak to those who are doing the work of building this magnificent vessel, who have put months and years of your best work into this aircraft carrier -- this has got to be a very proud day for you, as it is for me. The George Washington joins a noble line that begins with the first aircraft carrier built here -- that was the Ranger, back in 1934.

Many of you out here are sons and daughters of shipbuilders. In some families, I'm told, four generations have worked here, turning steel into ships -- men like Edgar Davis, 80 years old now, who followed his father and four brothers into these yards, and whose son and two grandsons work here today. When Edgar started work in 1926, there were no portable electric lights, so the steel workers went down into the hull holding candles. And yet before he retired 48 years later, Edgar Davis and his fellow workers here at Newport News had helped launch the nuclear Navy.

Edgar said he'd be here today if the weather was good. We tried to oblige him. He said, ``I've seen so many launchings, but I'll tell you, I'm just as enthused about this one as I was about my very first.''

This magnificent ship is a tribute to your talents. Few realize the magnitude of your task: what it means to build a state-of-the-art supercarrier -- a warship, a floating city, an airport all rolled into one. But here she is, about to be launched, one step closer to service, one step closer to the sea.

The carrier came of age, I think, in the Second World War. And the ships built in this yard helped us turn the tide in the Pacific: the Battle of Midway, the greatest naval contest in history; at Leyte Gulf, where our Navy captured control of the Western Pacific. When Jimmy Doolittle led his legendary raid on Tokyo, he took off from the deck of the Hornet, built right here at Newport News. Today the carrier remains an indispensable element in the American arsenal, projecting power, preserving the peace.

Today, fortunately, is not a time of war. A new chapter is opening, a day of great promise, a time of triumph for the ideals all Americans hold dear. But while freedom has made great gains, we have not entered an era of perpetual peace. What George Washington said in the 18th century is truer today than it ever was: ``To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving the peace.'' American power is still the world's paramount force for freedom. And as in the time of war, when America waged the fight for freedom far from our shores, so today we must maintain a policy of peacetime engagement and armed forces sufficient to sustain our vital national interest. We are inescapably the leader of free world defense, the connecting link in a global alliance of democracies, the pivotal factor of stability. We will not shrink from this responsibility. Let the George Washington proclaim America's commitment to remain forever free.

Once again, Barbara, Dorothy, and I thank you for this warm welcome. We are pleased and honored to be a part of these proceedings. May God bless the George Washington and all who sail in her and all who fly from her deck. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:21 a.m. in the Newport News Shipbuilding Yard. In his remarks, he referred to Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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