NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — President Bush dedicated a $4 billion aircraft carrier in honor of Ronald Reagan on Sunday and pledged to pursue the 40th president's desire to "patiently build the momentum of freedom" in every corner of the world.
In the wind and rain, Bush and his wife, Laura, flanked former first lady Nancy Reagan at a christening ceremony at Newport News Shipbuilding that was attended by hundreds of military personnel and their families.
Bush praised Reagan for his commitment to building military strength and promised to do the same in keeping with the former president "vision of optimism, modesty and resolve."
"When we send her off to sea, it is certain the Ronald Reagan will meet with rough waters as well as smooth," Bush said. "But she will sail tall and strong like the man we have known. . . . All of us here wish the ship Ronald Reagan godspeed. And we wish Ronald Reagan God's blessings."
With Bush and shipbuilder William P. Fricks standing by, Nancy Reagan took a ribbon-laced champagne bottle in both hands and cracked it across a ship rail with
Nancy Reagan, who also was celebrating her 49th wedding anniversary, stepped back a little to avoid the spray while Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless the USA." Bush and Fricks were not as lucky — they were both splashed with champagne.
"I want to thank the Navy for giving us such a wonderful present. It's such a little thing," Nancy Reagan joked about the massive ship. "I wish Ronnie were here. But somehow, I think he is."
The 90-year-old former president, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, was home in California recovering from a broken hip he suffered in a fall in January.
Bush said that Reagan, by setting in motion the fall of Communism, set the United States' role as a mighty peacemaker. Even though the world is no longer split into "armed camps, locked in a careful balance of terror," Bush said, there remain sufficient threats to democracy that are best addressed through Reagan's philosophies.
"As president, Ronald Reagan believed without question that tyranny is temporary, and the hope of freedom is universal and permanent," Bush said. "Our times call for new thinking, but the values Ronald Reagan brought to America's conduct in the world will not change."
Bush also declared freedom the "equal promise" of citizens of countries such as Sudan, Iraq and China and said the United States would stand up to nations that "deny freedom and threaten our neighbors or our vital interests."
"Precisely because America is powerful, we must be sensitive about expressing our power and influence," Bush said. "Our goal is to patiently build the momentum of freedom, not create resentment for America itself. . . . In all our dealings with other nations, we will display the modesty of true confidence and strength."
The Ronald Reagan is the ninth Nimitz-class carrier and the first christened for a living namesake. It is the next-to-last carrier in the Nimitz class; the last is to be christened in 2006. The Reagan will join the Navy fleet in 2003.
"The Ronald Reagan may be the second to last in its class of carriers, but its namesake is second to none in his class of presidents," said Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Even though the ship is not complete, Reagan's family and admirers said it still made a fitting gift for the Reagans' anniversary.
"The only problem is, I'm trying to figure out how to up it," joked son Michael Reagan. He said of his father: "Every day that goes by, people become more aware of what he meant not only to the United States of America but to the world."
Bush also noted the Reagans' anniversary and praised Nancy Reagan for sticking by her husband throughout his illness. Reagan announced he had Alzheimer's in 1994.
"A man cannot be strong forever, but if he is very fortunate, life will send him a partner to be strong when he is not," Bush said. "Mrs. Reagan, anyone who has seen you together knows how much you mean to him. I want you to know how much your care and love for him means to America."