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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

George H.W. Bush Christens Keel Of News Aircraft Carrier

Aired September 6, 2003 - 11:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to Newport News, Virginia where the nation's 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush is about to participate in a keel laying ceremony there in Newport News. Right now introducing him is the Secretary of Navy, H.T. Johnson. He'll be introducing the former president in a moment.
The keel laying ceremony is part of a ceremony for aircraft carrier that will bear -- that will be bearing the name of President George Bush. The carrier is still being built and it's expected to be complete by the year 2008, but the keel laying ceremony is to officially mark, apparently, the start of this program.

It would be the 10th Nemmitt Class nuclear powered carrier. And this is the second time, of course, President Bush has been to this shipyard in Newport News. He was last there in 1990. There he was christening another naval ship.

President Bush is a decorated Naval aviator. One that earned his stripes during World War II. Let's listen in.

HANSFORD T. JOHNSON, ACTING NAVY SECRETARY: But the free people of Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning to taste the fruits of democracy and freedom. For 6 decades we've witnessed your many acts of courage. From Chi Chi Jima (ph) to the Persian Gulf War, you've faced many challenges, but as you once said, you complete your work no matter what the obstacles.

This ship will face many challenges in the 5 decades of service to our nation, but as you said, she will completeth her work, no matter what the obstacles.

Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming a leader, a hero, and dedicated servant of freedom, President George Herbert Walker Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you Secretary Johnson. Thank you guys for that warm welcome, all of you. Secretary Johnson, thank you sir, for those very kind, generous words. And my old friend Jim Holloway. It's just a little overwhelming for me to be here today. John Warner and I go back a long time and to have him up here, deservedly so, I might add, for his own service to the country makes it especially wonder day for me.

I have great respect for our CNO, Admiral Clark over here. And I mentioned Jim Holloway, with whom I go back a long way and I was so thrilled he was willing to come down here today.

Tom Shifobame is -- Chief Shifobame, I think a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being, Shifobame, what the heck? Tom, thank you, sir, for the warm welcome. The briefing. And on -- I guess I can thank you for all the hard work of people here at this wonderful facility. Ray Bagley, I appreciate it, sir, your giving the invocation and I think it's very special that Admiral Forbes is here, a representative of the United Kingdom, our staunch friend and ally. Where is he? I never believed when I was a kid of 17 that the chiefs ran the Navy. But then I learned the hard way when I was commander-in-chief and when I was an ensign who runs the Navy. It's a joy to have the master chief, Master Chief Scott, with us here today.

I want to acknowledge another group here. You all gave him a well-deserved hand, the Leapfrogs, the Navy Leapfrogs. They've helped make this a very special day for us. I thought their spokesman got a little nervous when the cloud floated over here. They'll only be coming any minute now, any minute now. He did a great job, filling what we call quiet air time there, so congratulations to all of you guys. Some of you may know that at an advanced stage, I've developed an appreciation for skydiving and I certainly give the Leapfrogs high marks on technique, that of being the technique of landing safely.

I plan to make another jump on my 80th birthday, June 12, next year or June 13, maybe the day after the 80th birthday. Barbara -- I was put down as a lack of overly enthusiastic about this matter but she said to me, "One way or another, this will be your final jump." I thought she could have phrased it a little differently.

Let me salute the members of Congress that are here. I see Bill Young and Sonny and Ralph Hall and so many with whom I served there and I love those days in the Congress. It was absolutely wonderful. A lot of nice things happened to you when you become a former president. You know people are for you. You know what I mean? They're with you. And the naming of this carrier has got to be exceptionally special. I feel very emotional about it, very honored by it. I want to thank Secretary England for his key role in the naming and, of course, John Warner, a compatriot of his and mine who had a lot to do with it, also. If you need somebody to blame for naming this ship, those are two -- your two guys. And given my record as a naval aviator, I took off two more times than I landed. Jim had to point that out but he did it nicely. You might say the secretary and the senator redeemed themselves by picking my wonderful daughter, Daro, as the ship's sponsor. We're so thrilled that she's here with us today. I'm deeply grateful to all of you...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: ... and then a selfish sense, part of the reason this honor is so deeply meaningful goes back to my own Navy days. And looking back, I loved my time serving in the Navy, the three years aboard the San Jacinto, CVL-30, flying in Torpedo Squadron 51, and it made a man out of a scared kid. My Navy days taught me the meaning of friendship, too, and of freedom, and gave me the opportunity to serve -- we all back then -- we felt we were serving a noble cause. The country was together, no dissent. Let's go get the job done and even little guys -- lowly little ones, striped ensigns felt exactly that way.

Many friends out here today, and one is very special friend of mine, one of the few. He and I are few remainders of VT-51. He's a winner of the Navy Cross, Jack Guy. Stand up, Jack, right here. That's squadron mate. Maybe it's old fashioned, but to me, serving in the Navy was it's own reward and I can tell you I relied heavily on the experiences I picked up in three years in the Navy throughout my lifetime. It was particularly important; I felt, to me trying to make decisions when I was commander-in-chief.

And so, I do appreciate, again, the kind words of Secretary Warner and Jim Halloway about my time in uniform and in government. So when you get right down to it, each of us are gathered here today is involved in service of one kind or another. We all have important roles to play and we're all part of a team that today is the most powerful instrument of human freedom the world has ever known. And so, I salute the ship builders.

I was so pleased to see so many of the people that build the ships stand out and followed by their wonderful families. I think there's something very, very special and we as a country should be grateful to the men and women who build these ships. And so...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: ... I hope you all feel what I do in my heart, that you play a key role in the defense of freedom. Newport News is the only place where ships and submarines like that are built. I was going to say the only place that builds submarines anymore but that's not quite true, but it certainly is true of carriers. And the talented and dedicated workers who build them can take pride in their life's work.

I think it's wonderful that Tom pointed out that there's several generations of ship builders here, pride of a son and a father joining in the marvelous occupation. And so, it's gives us great pleasure to salute the men and women who work here at this wonderful facility. Just as the service men and women have a special place in the hearts of all Americans, all the more so in recent days and recent months, those who build the ships and the airplanes, and the tanks, and the protective gear that make America's military work have a special place in the hearts of though who wear the uniform. And I might add that goes for the entire Bush family. I seldom speak for our oldest son, but I can tell you he feels exactly the way his dad does.

I know that our fantastic First Lady was here last summer to participate in the keel laying of the USS Texas. And of course, Barbara sponsored the Houston, USS Houston, and later the carrier George Washington. More recently, many of you joined Nancy Reagan and Dick Cheney last month with the commissioning of the Ronald Reagan, so aptly named for my dear friend and predecessor who did so much to restore our military might and our national pride.

Each of these state of the art vessels that I just mentioned will join what my first commander-in-chief, the Navy man, Franklin D. Roosevelt called the great arsenal of freedom, and in so doing, helped make sure that my grandkids and your kids grow up in a safer world. Since leaving office, I have often said that I'm an optimist about the future because I truly believe that better days lie ahead for America. And we're a resilient nation, a proud nation. And there is no question in my mind that though we face insidious terror, we will prevail.

In the wake of September 11th, and the ongoing war against terror, many people are understandably concerned about our world, the kind of world that we are living in. And in the arduous aftermath following our stunning victory in Iraq, some are quick to question whether America has both the will and the ability to continue engaging in our world in ways that foster more freedom and more human rights. Everyone would prefer clean and easy answers to these difficult problems. Yet it seems to me that ignoring the threats rising up against our way of life is to shirk our solemn responsibilities and true, the post Cold War world remains a dangerous place. But those who doubt our will not only underestimate the resolve of our president, they also sell short the selfless men and women who dedicate their lives in service to the American armed forces, the forces of the greatest, freest country on the face of the earth.

And to be sure, we still face many serious and even deadly challenges, which we confront, a faceless enemy, you might say. In many ways, securing the peace in this new era will be difficult as it was in securing freedom's victory in the Cold War. All too often we're reminded that the price of freedom remains painfully high, but with faith and vigilance and the vision and leadership that only the United States can provide. Freedom prevailed in the twilight struggle of the Cold War in the last century just as we will be here -- just as we will do here in the 21st century. I have faith in our president. And I have faith in our fantastic military. And I have faith in each of you here that we are equal to this hard and necessary task. And I take immense pride that this vessel whose keel we lay today will contribute to this proud and noble cause.

Lastly, there's much I do not miss about being president. A lot of things I don't miss about that. I have a great life out there; Barbara and me, sitting by the sea watching the tide come in and the tide go out. It's absolutely wonderful. But what I do miss is dealing with our superb military. I've said it not just here in front of these Navy folks, in front of these that build the ships for the Navy. But I miss very much dealing with the greatest military in the entire world. And I'm glad to be back surrounded by this wonderful, wonderful group of people who I'm sure feel the same commitment to the military as I do. So thank you very much. And God bless you workers and you guys who man our ships, you men and women who are out there, and you Leapfrogs. Make every landing as nice as the last one and may God bless our president, too. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you President Bush.

Well, we're very close to the highlight of today's ceremony. But before we begin, I want to tell you a little bit about a very special lady who has a very special role in the life of the carrier George H. W. Bush. She's the ship's sponsor and in three years, she will christen the carrier named after her father. Her name is Dorothy Bush- Cook, but everybody knows her as Doro. She hails from Houston, Texas, and lives in Maryland with her husband, Bobby Cook and their four children, Sam, Ellie, Robert, and G.G. She received her bachelor's degree from Boston College and pursuing a master's degree in theological studies at Wesley seminary. Active in the community, she continues the tradition of public service so well established by her parents.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the sponsor for the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, Doro Bush-Cook.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the line in the speech says I'm -- don't sit down. Join me. So, we already got past that part, so. If we're about ready for the excitement. If the guests on the dios (PH) would don their aprons and their shields, we'll move over to the flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The keel laying ceremony celebrates the laying of the first timber and can be traced back to the first shipbuilding for our Navy. While the current ceremony maintains this tradition, it's been modified to take into consideration updates in materials, technology, and techniques. With modern modular ship construction techniques, there is often no actual laying of the keel to begin the building process.

Today, President Bush will authenticate the keel by chalking his initials on a metal plate. Our welder will use a welding torch to cut the chalked inscription into the metal. This metal plate will then be affixed to the carrier permanently.

The audience may sit down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we practiced there, Barbara wasn't sure if she wanted to be in the front here with the sparks, so.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We're all pretty much over here. We have all of our shields? We have a plaque here that's special so Doro, would you like to tell everyone about what's so special about the plaque?

DOROTHY BUSH-COOK, SHIP SPONSOR: Sure. I'd like -- I'm honored to be the sponsor of the CNV77, named for a great president and a great father. I, too, would like to salute the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States. And the workers and their families who will be building this great carrier. When I was asked to suggest a gift to place with the keel, we thought of this plaque that has just four letters on it. CAVU. My father doesn't talk a lot about his World War II service, but I do know that these four words are important to him. And, they stand for ceiling and visibility, unlimited. It's what he hoped for when he was a pilot, and it's what he has now in his life, today. So, it is my hope that the George -- when the George H. W. Bush is commissioned that she will have ceiling and visibility, unlimited, for its pilots and smooth seas for the ship itself. Again, I'm honored to be here. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, Doro.

Now, we're going to unveil the plaque, here, and then we'll get started with the keel authentication.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Think I made it big enough?

(APPLAUSE)

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was during the construction of the aircraft carrier, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the early 1970's, that Mike Eaton began his career at Newport News. During his 30 years of service, he has mastered the intricate art of welding on both carriers and submarines. Like many of our employees, Mike was born and raised in the area, hailing from Sussex, Virginia. His brother is also a ship builder. He is joined here today, by his wife, Sharon, his daughter, Sherell, and his son Dupree. Please welcome Mike Eaton.

(APPLAUSE)

BARBARA BUSH: Where are you going?

(LAUGHTER)

MIKE EATON, WELDER: Everybody ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

EATON: Everybody ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're ready.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush, if you'd join me up here. It's now time to authenticate the keel.

BUSH: I here by declare the keel of this unite -- of this United States aircraft carrier -- U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, true and fairly laid.

(APPLAUSE)

(MUSIC)

BUSH: Well done, young man. You didn't let you ego get in the way and put you glasses on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was incredible, everybody liked that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, I'm old enough to know what you're...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that fantastic, or what?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, President Bush, it's traditional at carrier christening and commissioning ceremonies to have jet flyovers. Well, we thought it was only right to have a flyover for a keel laying of a ship named after an aviator. But today, we're going to do things just a little bit differently. So, in a few seconds, hopefully, Jerry, I want you to look up and you should see a plane that looks familiar to you.

The plane is a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, the same model that you flew in World War II. This aircraft is a fully restored plane with a functioning eclectic gun turret and Bombay doors. It is piloted by Mr. Don Anklin of Chesapeake, Virginia.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're going to make one more pass.

(APPLAUSE)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A unique -- a unique flyover fitting a World War II naval aviator, I'm talking about former President George H. W. Bush, this taking place over the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. All of this is part of the keel laying ceremony, which is considered the official start of the project in which the building is already underway at the 10th and final Nimitz class nuclear powered carrier being named after the former president. It will be complete, the project that is -- of the building of the carrier -- this aircraft carrier in 2008.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, one more time.

FREDRICKA: However, right now, they actually have the keel laying ceremony and what you were able to see moments ago the former president chalking in his initials on a placard which was then followed up by a welder who traced over those initials and later on, that placard will be placed onto the aircraft carrier, when it's all complete.

That ceremony taking place all in Newport News, Virginia, today.

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