Aircraft carrier named for Ford in ceremony

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy has given the late President Gerald Ford an honor he would never have sought, but one he certainly would have prized.

In a solemn and poignant ceremony three weeks after Ford’s death, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter said Tuesday that the first ship in a new 21st century class of aircraft carriers will bear the name of the 38th president. It will be known as the USS Gerald R. Ford.

“No one would have appreciated more the honor of having an aircraft carrier named after him than President Ford,” said Winter.

Ford, who was assigned to a light carrier during World War II, died on Dec. 26 at the age of 93. Ford knew that he was to receive the honor, and his daughter, Susan Bales Ford, said her father was touched by the prospect.

“The permanence of Dad’s name and his legacy is forever instilled into this magnificent vessel and the men and women who will some day occupy its decks,” said Bales Ford, who spoke for the family at the Pentagon ceremony. “It is that special bond that gives our family great pride.”

Betty Ford, the former president’s wife of 58 years, did not attend the ceremony. Her daughter said she was watching it via a Pentagon broadcast.

All four of the Ford children – Susan, Steve, Jack and Mike – attended the ceremony. Bales Ford, who was named the ship’s sponsor and will be enlisted to christen the ship when it is commissioned, read a passage from a letter the former president wrote several weeks before his death.

“As a World War II veteran, I yield to no one in my admiration for the heroes of Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima,” Ford wrote Greg Willard, a family friend.

“At the same time, I take enormous inspiration from their grandsons and granddaughters who are writing new chapters of heroism around the globe.

That is the source of my indescribable pride and humility to know that an aircraft carrier bearing my name may be permanently associated with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States Navy.”

The carrier’s construction won’t begin for several years, but it is expected to cost nearly $14 billion by the time it’s completed in 2015. It will have the most up-to-date technology of any ship in the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers. There currently are 12 carriers.

All ships built in the class will carry Ford’s name, although each subsequent ship also will have its own name. The changes in design that make this a new class of carriers include significant alterations in the flight deck and propulsion system.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, the U.S. Navy Band’s Brass Quartet played the University of Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors,” when a model of the new aircraft carrier was unveiled with Winter, the former president’s children and Vice President Dick Cheney looking on. They all wore baseball caps emblazoned with the new carrier’s name.

“If the purpose of naming an aircraft carrier is to convey the confident spirit of our military and the good and just causes that America serves in the world, then we have certainly accomplished that purpose here today,” said Cheney, who served as President Ford’s chief of staff.

“The name Gerald R. Ford belonged to a man who gave a lifetime of devoted service to our country, reflecting honor on the United States navy, on the House of Representatives, on the vice presidency and on the presidency,” Cheney added.

The carrier will be about 20 stories high and have a crew of about 4,660. Measured by its length, it will be the same size as the Empire State Building. The Navy says the nuclear-powered carrier should be able to sail for 20 years without refueling.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan’s senior senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that during his presidency Ford resolved to make “the best Navy in the whole world,” and that mission continues today.

“We help keep that pledge with this new aircraft carrier named in his honor, and we renew that pledge in his name to maintain the best navy in the whole world and to help defend beyond his and our lives the nation that Jerry Ford loved so much,” Levin, a Democrat, said at the unveiling.

Although the name of a new carrier is usually not revealed until it is officially announced, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during Ford’s funeral in Grand Rapids that the carrier would be named for the former president.

CM END KELLOGG

(Sarah Kellogg can be contacted at sarah.kellogg(at)newhouse.com)

2007-01-16-FORD-CARRIER

AP-NY-01-16-07 1757EST

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