Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Bush honors father at commissioning of new aircraft carrier

AFP AND AP , WASHINGTON AND ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, MARYLAND

Sailors stand at attention during a ceremony for the commissioning of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Saturday. The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carrier, named in honor of the 41st president, a naval aviator during World War II, will have a crew of more than 5,500 and will initially be home-ported there, assigned to the US Atlantic Fleet.

PHOTO: EPA

Outgoing US President George W. Bush showed off his lighter side on Saturday when speaking at the commissioning ceremony of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier named after his father.

Standing in the shadow of the USS George H.W. Bush, named after the 41st US president, George W. Bush told supporters and navy personnel he was “thrilled to be here to help commission an awesome ship and to honor an awesome man.”

To prepare for his speech, Bush, 62, said he researched his father’s letters and found one from the late 1940s that discussed the elder Bush’s young son, Georgie.

“You should see Georgie now. Whenever I come home he greets me and talks a blue streak, sentences disjointed of course,” the former president wrote in a letter read aloud by his son.

“He tries to say everything, and the results are often hilarious,” the letter said.

“Some things do not change,” George W. Bush told a laughing audience at Virginia’s Norfolk Naval Station.

He is infamous for mangling the English language.

Bush honored his father, a naval aviator during World War II and a US president from 1989 to 1993, by asking: “What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed? Well, an aircraft carrier.”

The US$6.2 billion, 95,000 tonne ship is the 10th and last Nimitz-class “supercarrier” to be commissioned by the US Navy.

George H. W. Bush said that the carrier had a 1.82 hectare landing field, a tower that soars 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.”

Meanwhile, George W. Bush had to be reminded on Saturday that he was taking his last scheduled trip aboard Air Force One.

After Barack Obama is sworn into office on Jan. 20, Bush will fly again on the familiar blue-and-white presidential aircraft, but it won’t be called Air Force One because he no longer will be the president.

“I don’t think it had dawned on him that it was his last flight on Air Force One,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters on the plane as it returned to Washington from Norfolk, Virginia, after the commissioning of the George H.W. Bush.

After a reporter mentioned it, the president said: “You know, you’re right,” Perino said, adding that he was moved by the commissioning ceremony.

“His whole family is here and that’s all that matters to him,” she said.

Members of the Bush family and some of the president’s friends, who attended the commissioning ceremony, shared the roughly 40-minute flight with Bush back to Washington.

After it returned to Andrews Air Force Base, just by Washington in suburban Maryland, the Boeing 747, wet from rain, was towed into a hangar.

Once inside, Bush got off and spent about 25 minutes visiting privately with members of the Presidential Airlift Group.

First lady Laura Bush, their daughters, Barbara Bush and Jenna Hager, and her husband, Henry Hager, joined him in thanking the dozens of flight attendants, maintenance workers and others who handle everything from food to fuel for Air Force One.

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