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Special Event

USS Ronald Reagan Christened in Newport News, Virginia

Aired March 4, 2001 - 2:49 p.m. ET

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

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Donna Kelly at CNN Center in Atlanta. We apologize. We are going to interrupt "WORLD REPORT" for you because we're going to take you to a live event that we've been monitoring. It's in Newport News, Virginia this afternoon.

President Bush is there, along with Nancy Reagan because she will be christening the Ronald Reagan. They'll call it the USS Ronald Reagan when it goes into service, but that won't be for another couple of years. But they're going to christen the Ronald Reagan today and this is Donald Rumsfeld, who is the secretary of defense and our Kelly Wallace is there.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Donna, it is a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, but spirits are still quite high at this shipyard in Newport News. Hundreds of Navy men and women and their families listening closely as speaker after speaker pays tribute to former President Ronald Reagan on this day in which the Ronald Reagan will be christened.

Nancy Reagan will be breaking the traditional bottle of champagne, christening the ship in the name of her husband. Donna, this is an unprecedented occasion. It is the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier has been named in the honor of a living U.S. president.

Now they're, obviously the tragedy of yesterday, the crash which killed 21 members of the National Guard, 18 from the Virginia National Guard, is definitely felt here. We heard Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore mention this, calling for a moment of silence. We understand that President Bush, when he speaks following the defense secretary, is expected to talk about that.

He issued a statement yesterday saying how saddened he was about that tragedy and it again shows the risks that military men encounter each and over day. The president, though, Donna, also expected in his remarks to pay tribute to Ronald Reagan, to talk about how he changed country for the better and how he made the military stronger. Mr. Bush going to talk about the things he hopes to do in terms of rebuilding the military as he is in the White House -- Donna.

KELLEY: As you mentioned, Kelly, Mrs. Reagan will hit the USS Reagan, or the Ronald Reagan they'll call it for the time being until goes into service, with the bottle of champagne. Today is actually their 49th anniversary, too. She had asked that the date of this christening be moved so that they could do it on the anniversary date, their 49th anniversary.

It's a $4 billion aircraft carrier. Kelly maybe you can tell us a little more about how big this aircraft carrier is.

WALLACE: It really is incredible, Donna. And you don't even get a sense of it even looking at it or even, I'm sure, watching it on TV. Apparently, it is about 1,000 feet in length, and to put that in perspective, it is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall.

It's sort of hard to believe when you look at it. It is also about 20 stories above the water. It has a 4.5 acre flight deck. It will be the home to about 6,000 Navy men and women. Eighty planes will be able to be on this aircraft carrier.

It is being billed as the most sophisticated and the most advanced aircraft carrier of its time. Again, a big price tag. It is going to be worth about $4 billion-plus once it is fully commissioned. That will be in about two years. So, a massive, massive ship here that will be christened on this day -- Donna.

KELLEY: As you mentioned, Kelly, be in service in about two years if they stay on schedule and then it will be in service for about 50 years. And they were talking that maybe they may have to move the ceremony today, but I see that the weather is really iffy, as mentioned, windy and rainy, but they didn't at least have to move the ceremony inside.

WALLACE: Absolute. There was sort of a lot of discussion, of course, as the rain and the winds continued about whether or not they would have to move this ceremony inside to an indoor ceremony. They decided to do it outside.

I understand the president is about to speak, Donna, why don't we listen now?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Secretary, thank you for those kind words.

I picked the right man to be the secretary of defense at this time in history.

Mrs. Reagan, it's an honor to be with you. Reagan family members, friends of the great president, Laura and I are honored to be here. We join with the governor and senator of this state in asking for God's blessings on those who lost their lives yesterday and for their families.

Bill, thank you very much for your hospitality.

Secretary Powell and Secretary Abraham, Leader Lott, Chairman Warner, I can't tell if you're trying to retire me early or influence my behavior.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Senator Allen, Governor Gilmore, Representative Scott, and members of Congress, Justice Kennedy, Admiral Clark, welcome.

But most of all, I want to welcome the men and women of the United States Navy, including the officers and crew who will soon be on the Ronald Reagan.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Looking at the bow of this great ship, we think of those who will sail it and of those who built it. Into this ship's six years in the making, we have put the finest of American workmanship. On board this ship we'll put the finest sailors in the world, and upon this ship, we have put the finest of American names.

Forty-nine years ago, another outstanding American took that name herself. Mrs. Reagan, I know today is your 49th wedding anniversary. Since your wedding day, you've seen the name Reagan written large in many places, from theater marquees to the archways of great buildings.

But there's something especially fitting in the place it holds today, on the newest ship in the greatest navy in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: When we send her off to sea, it is certain that the Ronald Reagan will meet with rough waters, as well as smooth, and headwinds, as well as fair. But she will sail tall and strong, like the man we have known.

Man cannot be strong forever, but if he is very fortunate, life will send him a partner to be strong when he is not. In a life of honors, Ronald Reagan always valued one honor above all, the love of Nancy. It is a love that believes all, hopes all and endures all.

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.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: It was said of a great architect centuries ago, if you want to seek his monument, look around you. That is true of Ronald Reagan. We live in a world shaped in so many ways by his will and heart.

As president, Ronald Reagan believed without question that tyranny is temporary and the hope of freedom is universal and permanent, that our nation has a unique goodness and must remain uniquely strong.

That God takes the side of justice, because all our rights are His own gifts. The strength of these beliefs gave strength to our allies and hope to political prisoners and courage to average citizens in oppressed nations and leadership to our military and to our country.

Some achievements fade with the years. Ronald Reagan's achievements grow larger with the passing of time. He had a profound vision of America's role in the world, as one of peace through strength. And because of Ronald Reagan, the world saw America as a strong and peaceful nation.

Today's world is different from the one he faced and changed. We are no longer divided into armed camps locked in a careful balance of terror. Yet freedom still has enemies. Our present dangers are less concentrated and more varied. They come from rogue nations, from terrorism, from missiles that threaten our forces, our friends, our allies and our homeland.

Our times call for new thinking. But the values Ronald Reagan brought to America's conduct in the world will not change.

So as we dedicate this ship, I wants to rededicate American policy to Ronald Reagan's vision of optimism, modesty and resolve.

Ronald Reagan's optimism defined his character, and it defined his presidency. More than a habit of mind, this optimism sprang from deep confidence in the power and future of American ideals, great democracies that believe they're built on the strong foundation of consent and human dignity. And any government built on oppression is built on sand.

The future he proclaimed belongs to the free. That belief has lost none of its power to inspire hope and change. Around the world today, the expectation of freedom is spread by free markets and expanded by free trade and carried across borders by the Internet. And nations that try to restrict these freedoms are in a losing battle with liberty.

America, by nature, stands for freedom, and we must always remember we benefit when it expands. So we will stand by those nations moving towards freedom. We'll stand up to those nations who deny freedom and threaten our neighbors or our vital interests. And we will assert emphatically that the future will belong to the free.

At the same time, President Reagan understood that this confidence should never be arrogance. No one was better at using the bully pulpit of the presidency, but under his leadership America was never a bully.

One of the ways we show the world we take our values seriously, is to live by them ourselves. Our nation cherishes freedom, but we do not own it. While it is the birth right of every American, it is also the equal promise of the religious believer in southern Sudan or an Iraqi farmer in the Tigress Valley or of a child born in China today.

We helpful fulfill that promise not by lecturing the world, but by leading it. Precisely because America is powerful, we must be sensitive about expressing our power and influence. Our goal is to patiently build the momentum of freedom, not create resentment for America itself. We pursue our goals, we will listen to others. We want strong friends to join us, not weak neighbors to dominate. In all our dealings with other nations, we will display the modesty of true confidence and strength.

And finally, Ronald Reagan understood the advance of freedom depends on American strength. We must have a military that is second to none and that includes a navy that is second to none.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: As it has been mentioned for the last 60 years, every president has asked, where are the carriers? None has ever been disappointed by the Navy's response. Just a few weeks ago, I asked the same question, and called upon the Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf.

Ronald Reagan built the military of today, the military that keeps our peace. But we cannot live forever on that legacy. Our challenge is to build a military that will deter and win the wars of the future.

Almost 20 years ago, President Reagan made his first visit to an aircraft carrier, the USS Constellation. He told the sailors how grateful America was that they were there as a powerful force in an uncertain world.

100,000 tons of American power you see over here will carry forward this proud tradition. In fact, in two years the Reagan will actually replace the USS Constellation.

What you don't see is what's different between those two magnificent vessels. The island on the Reagan's main deck is almost the same height as that of its predecessors, but it has one less level. The empty space will be filled with cables that will tie the ship into a vast network that connects information and weapons in new ways. This will revolutionize the Navy's ability to project American power over land and sea, assuring access for all our forces wherever our vital interests are threatened.

These new capabilities are the future of our military -- not just the Navy, but of all our services. It is a future where a revolution in technology will change the face of war itself. We will keep the peace by redefining the terms of war. We will change our military, yet we'll never forget that American strength ultimately depends on the courage and spirit of the men and women who wear the uniform.

Nearly half our ships are at sea right now. One-third are forward-deployed overseas, taking their crew away from family and the comforts of home.

In our sleep, we don't think about the enemies that the men and women in uniform deter, the friends they reassure, the freedom and trade they guarantee. Yet, we rest at night protected by the security they provide. As president, Ronald Reagan understood our duty to these brave Americans, and so do I. Our men and women in uniform give American their best, and we owe them our support in return.

These are the defining qualities or Ronald Reagan: optimism, modesty and strength. They are also the qualities that will guide America in a new century.

So, today, the Ronald Reagan begins its journey into the bright and peaceful dawn that President Reagan helped to bring. All of us here wish the ship, Ronald Reagan, Godspeed. And we wish Ronald Reagan God's blessings.

God bless America.

KELLEY: President Bush with some comments as Nancy Reagan gets set to christen the USS Ronald Reagan. They'll call it the Ronald Reagan until it goes into service in two and then they will call it, of course, the USS Ronald Reagan. It's a $4 billion aircraft carrier. Two more years of fitting ahead before it can -- this person is Bill Fricks. He's the chairman and CEO of Newport News Shipbuilding and he's going to introduce Mrs. Reagan.

BILL FRICKS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NEWPORT NEWS SHIPBUILDING: You're ready, I can tell.

But first, let me tell you a little about the great lady who's our ship's sponsor. Nancy Davis Reagan was born in New York City, majored in drama, and graduated from Smith College. She was an actress in stage, film and television.

It was there that she met another young actor named Ronald Reagan. Throughout her life, Nancy Reagan has been committed to public service, both as first lady of the state of California and during her eight years in the White House. Traveling more than 250,000 throughout the world, she helped make the words "Just Say No" understood in any language in her campaign to fight substance abuse.

(APPLAUSE)

FRICKS: After leaving the White House in 1989, Mrs. Reagan established the Nancy Reagan Foundation to continue to educate people about the dangers of substance abuse. In recent years, Mrs. Reagan has devoted her time to projects related to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation.

Please join me in welcoming our ship's sponsor, Ms. Ronald Reagan.

(APPLAUSE)

FRICKS: And now, Mr. President, if you will join Mrs. Reagan and I topside, we'll christen this ship.

(MUSIC)

NANCY REAGAN, FRM. FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I christen thee...

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: I christen thee, United States Ship Ronald Reagan, and God bless all those who sail on her.

(APPLAUSE)

(MUSIC)

KELLEY: And so, Mrs. Reagan gave that champagne bottle a pretty good pop on the breaker bar and said, I christen thee the USS Ronald Reagan and may God bless all those who sail on her. President Bush with some remarks this afternoon as well, and the dignitaries you see on the platform there.

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