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AP Story Section

January 12, 2009

A presidential welcome for USS George H.W. Bush

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — It’s the perfect gift for an old Navy flier: 1,092 feet of flattop.

“What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed?” asked President George W. Bush from aboard the Navy’s newest ship. “Well, an aircraft carrier.”

The USS George H.W. Bush, a steel-gray vessel longer than three football fields and built at a cost of $6.2 billion, was commissioned Saturday with its namesake, the 41st president, and other members of the Bush family on hand for the ceremonies at Naval Station Norfolk.

Adorned for the day with red, white and blue bunting, the USS George H.W. Bush is one of the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the largest warships in the world.

“The ship that bears our dad’s name is more than 95,000 tons of aluminum and steel,” Bush said from a podium tucked under the flight deck. “She will carry nearly 6,000 of the finest sailors and Marines in the world. She represents the craftsmanship of many skilled builders, and thousands of hours of preparation.”

Bush, who took his last scheduled flight aboard Air Force One to get to Norfolk, added: “Laura and I are thrilled to be here to help commission an awesome ship and to honor an awesome man.”

It was the ultimate honor for former President George H.W. Bush, a decorated World War II pilot.

The former president recalled the day 65 years ago in Philadelphia when he attended the commissioning of the USS San Jacinto, a light carrier on which he served during the war. It was during that trip, he said, that he gave his fiancee, Barbara, an engagement ring.

“I thought that the San Jac was by far the biggest ship, or anything else, I’d ever seen,” said the elder Bush, comparing it to the massive aircraft carrier, spit and polished for its unveiling. He marveled at its 4.5-acre landing field, a tower that reaches 20 stories above the waterline and its 1,400 telephones.

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