NEWPORT, Va. — Hobbling on a cane and squinting under a glaring winter sun, President George H.W. Bush took a final look at his namesake aircraft carrier before Saturday’s commissioning ceremony, when his son, President George W. Bush, will give the keynote address at the ceremony.
“I’m feeling very excited. Unbelievable, very emotional, very proud of the kids on this ship,” the former president said with arms outstretched, flashing a beaming smile. Bush then threw is his arm around the shoulder of Capt. Kevin E. O’Flaherty, who had just briefed reporters touring the Nimitz-class carrier, and the two ambled down the pier, chatting away. Bush toured the ship Thursday for aboutfour hours.
"I think he was so amazed he was just about overcome with his tour of the ship," O'Flaherty said.
The pier and ship were bustling, with preparations for a reception Friday evening and tomorrow’s grand affair, which begins at 11:00 a.m. at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. The 83-year-old Bush was a World War II naval aviatorand only living namesake for an aircraft carrier, something Command Master Cheif J.D. Port said made the crew of more than 5,500 even more excited to kick off the event.
"I'd stack the morale of the crew on this ship against any crew in the Navy," Port said. "We have a sense of making history tomorrow. We have a living namesake, and there's a sense of ownership that every sailor feels; that this is a little bit like this is our grandfather.”
Construction on the 1,092-foot long vesselbegan in Newport News, Va., in 2003. Tomorrow, the senior Bush’s daughter, Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch will give the order, “Man our ship and bring her to life.” Sea-trials are expected to begin within a couple weeks, O'Flaherty said.