FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, all the distinguished guests here; I want to single out Captain O'Flaherty and what a great man he is and how lucky we are to be in command of this ship.
If you'll forgive an old Navy man a little reminiscing, being here in this ceremony takes me back 65 years to another commissioning -- this one on the shipyards of Philadelphia, of the USS San Jacinto, the light carrier upon which my crew mates -- very few of whom are with us today -- and I were preparing to serve in World War Two. Speaking of not many of them being with us, I feel like Phyllis Diller, when she said, "All my friends are dying in alphabetical order" -- but I'm glad to be here. (Laughter.)
A few memories of that distant day, December 15, 1943, stand out. First and foremost, it was during that trip to Philadelphia that I gave my fiancée -- a certain Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York -- an engagement ring. She had come down for the ceremony with my mother, and we had only just that week made our engagement public. Bar and I thought we had done a pretty good job of keeping our romance a secret -- but by that point in our courtship it is possible the Germans and the Japanese were the only people who didn't know we were planning to get married. (Laughter.)
The other memory that stands out from this first commissioning was the fact that I was -- thought that the San Jac was by far the biggest ship -- or anything else I'd ever seen. At 660 feet long and 120 feet high it cut an impressive figure, to be sure. But next to this ship, it really cannot compare. Almost twice as long, with a 4.5 acre landing field, a tower that exceeds up to 20 stories above the waterline, and a feature that a few of my granddaughters, in particular, would really like -- that's right, onboard this carrier there are a mind-boggling 1,400 telephones. (Laughter.)
For all of the special enhancements this carrier has received, however, for all of the state of the art technology, and the safety, the environmental features, the most important element will finally be added today in the form of the men and women who will serve aboard this floating Naval air station. To those who are sitting out there where I was 65 years ago preparing to serve aboard your new ship, I wish I was sitting right out there with you, ready to start the adventures of my naval aviation career all over.
I don't know if I could have handled the jets we fly today, but as you prepare to man this ship, I do know that you take with you the hopes and the dreams of every American who cherishes freedom and peace. And you take with you the undying respect and admiration of the entire Bush family.
In just a few moments I will take part in helping to set the first watch for CVN 77. And from that moment on, until this ship is officially retired many, many years from now, you will form an unbroken line of patriots protecting this special piece of American territory. As someone who has stood that watch and remembers the quiet solitude of that experience, I know you will find comfort and inspiration particularly in the night sky, for it is basking in the splendor of the stars that you will truly understand the majesty of creation and bear witness to the certain hand of God.
Make no mistake, the work aboard this ship will be routinely difficult and sometimes dangerous. But the freedom we seek and the peace we desire can only be found in the countless sacrifices you will make in everyday tasks you will perform. So thank you for your service. Good luck to each and every one of you. And may God bless the men and women who sail in CVN 77. (Applause.)