NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – With two presidents – her father and brother – standing beside her, Dorothy Bush Koch christened the last of the Nimitz-class of aircraft carriers Saturday with a single swing of a bottle of sparkling wine.

“I christen thee George H.W. Bush,” Bush Koch said before she cracked the bottle against a metal support on the ship’s bow in a dry dock at Northrop Grumman Newport News just after a shipyard siren sounded at 11:15 a.m.

“May God bless her and all who sail her.”

The bottle strike sent fizz onto the carrier’s hull, followed by smiles, hugs and handshakes between Koch Bush, her father, brother, and shipyard president Mike Petters.

George Herbert Walker Bush, the Navy’s youngest commissioned pilot during World War II and president from 1989 to 1993, became the first living president to attend the christening of a carrier named after him.

“This is any Navy aviator’s dream come true,” the former president said. “This is magnificent. These shipbuilders are the best the United States could possibly have. I salute every single one of you.”

About 12,000 workers at Northrop Grumman Newport News have worked on the carrier since early purchases began in 1998 – up to 4,500 at any one time. The warship is to be delivered to the Navy in late 2008.

The 1,092 foot, nuclear-powered carrier, decorated for the occasion with red, white and blue bunting, sat on keel blocks in the water in the shipyard’s giant Dry Dock 12.

Thousands of people – including many former cabinet members in the first Bush’s administration – turned out despite sporadically heavy rains, high winds, and the occasional roars of thunder.

The christening marks the occasion when the ship is ready to float. Most of the event took place on barges in the dry dock, which has been flooded with millions of gallons of water, before today’s move to a new outfitting berth on the James River.

President George W. Bush, who gave the keynote address and introduced his father, raved about the vessel: “She is unrelenting, she is unshakeable, she is unyielding, she is unstoppable. In fact, she should have been named the Barbara Bush.”

On a more serious note, he said, “On this proud day, the children of George H.W. Bush bless their father’s name, the United States Navy honors his name, and the ship that bears his name sails into this young century as a symbol of American strength and freedom.”

Nearly the entire Bush family was on hand – including both presidents Bush, first lady Laura Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Other platform guests included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Sen. George Allen, R-Va., Gov. Tim Kaine, Navy Secretary Donald Winter, chief of naval operations Adm. Mike Mullen, shipyard president Mike Petters, Northrop Grumman chairman Ron Sugar and others.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell – who was also chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George H.W. Bush – was in attendance, though he was not on the platform.

The former President Bush talked about how “our cup runneth over” – what with him and his son both being elected president, his son being elected governor of Florida and other family blessings.

“To say that I’m pleased to be here is a classic understatement of the year,” he said. “I would say this is the luckiest day of my life. But I remember saying that after both Jeb and George were elected governor on the same day, I said ‘Barbara, this is the happiest day of my life.’ So she said, ‘What about the day we were married.’ I said, ‘Well, that was a nice day, too. So I guess this is maybe the third happiest day of my life.”

A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the elder Bush said a lot of other pilots were more deserving: “They asked me how I became a hero. I said, ‘They shot my plane down. A lot of people were a lot better and didn’t get shot down. They didn’t become heroes. I didn’t understand it.”

The former President Bush said he is “very proud of our president – I can’t tell you how much pride that gives me. I support him with every fiber in my body.”

As he reached the end of his speech, loud thunder began to sound: “I’m finishing Lord, I’m finishing,” he said.

The event ended with a rendition of God Bless America by Ronan Tynan, a friend of George H.W. Bush, who is known for his singing during the seventh inning stretches at Yankees baseball games.

“No friend was ever more loyal, no father was ever more caring,” said Doro Bush of her father.

(c) 2006, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).

Visit, the World Wide Web site of the Daily Press at and on America Online at keyword “dailypress.”

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-07-06 1728EDT

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