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Remarks by Susan Ford Bales at the Naming Ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)

Pentagon Auditorium
January 16, 2007
11:00 a.m.

Mr. Vice President, Secretary England, Secretary Winter, Senator Levin, Senator Warner, Admiral Mullen, General Swan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Ford Family this morning is filled with tremendous pride.  No doubt, my brothers and I could spend several hours talking about how much the Navy’s tribute meant to Dad.  However, before talking about today’s remarkable tribute, with your indulgence, Secretary Winter, I’d like to share some thoughts from Mother and our family.  Mother is doing well and is watching this ceremony on the Pentagon Channel. 
During the past three weeks, we’ve been deeply moved by the outpouring of affection and remembrances from across the United States.  We particularly want to express what an honor it was to have the men and women of the United States Armed Forces present with us at every ceremony and service of the State Funeral.  There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that would have made Dad prouder.  The dedication, compassion, and dignity of those brave men and women strengthened and comforted Mother and our family at every step of the way.  They will always have a special place in our hearts - always.

We would like to extend a personal thank you to President and Mrs. Bush and to Vice President and Mrs. Cheney for their many kindnesses and, most of all, for their decades of friendship with Dad and our family.  We remember fondly Mr. Joe Hagin and the White House Staff along with the U.S. Secret Service for their many kind deeds and for their moving farewell tribute in front of the White House.  We are particularly grateful to the House of Representatives and the Senate, especially both Sergeants-At-Arms and their staffs, for their assistance and for the unprecedented historical tributes that both bodies conducted for Dad.

And, General Swan, if I may, a personal comment.  The kindness and care that you provided to Mother as her personal escort is a gift for which we will always be grateful.  You embody the highest ideals of our great country, General Swan, and your assistance to Mother was, quite frankly, beyond description.  Thank you, sir.

As we gather today for the naming of CVN-78, let me first say to Senator Levin and Senator Warner, thank you for your tireless efforts in make this Naming Ceremony a reality.  And thank you for your unceasing support of our men and women in uniform. 

The naming of CVN-78 as the USS Gerald R. Ford represents more than assigning a name to a naval vessel.   There is now a unique bond between CVN-78 and its new namesake.  The permanence of Dad’s name and his legacy is forever instilled into this magnificent vessel and the men and women who will someday occupy her decks.  And it is that special bond that gives our family such pride.

The USS Gerald R. Ford also shares a unique bond with another ship and her crew.  As many of you know, several years ago the USS America was towed into the Atlantic Ocean and then sunk in a series of tests to verify critical components of the CVN-78 carrier program.  Those tests were essential to maximizing the survivability of the future carrier fleet, including CVN-78.  The USS America and her proud crew set a magnificent example of patriotism and unwavering service to the U.S. Navy.  And now their valor lives on within the spirit of the USS Gerald R. Ford.  For that gift and for their service, we are deeply grateful to the America and her crew.

I’ve thought a lot about how to convey Dad’s gratitude upon learning that Secretary Winter was considering naming CVN-78 the USS Gerald R. Ford.  I struggled to find words adequate to express the emotions that Dad shared privately with Mother, Mike, Jack, Steve, and me regarding CVN-78.  And, as was so often the case with Dad, the answer was found in his own words.

A few weeks before his death, Dad wrote a letter to our friend Greg Willard regarding CVN-78.  In the letter, he described how much the tribute then under consideration by Secretary Winter meant to him.  Dad wrote to Greg: 

“In closing, please permit me a personal reflection.  In my life, I’ve received countless honors.  But none was greater than the opportunity to wear the uniform of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy.  On an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II, I learned to respect, and to rely on, my comrades as if my life depended on them – because it often did.  As a World War II veteran, I yield to no one in my admiration for the heroes of Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima.  At the same time, I take enormous inspiration  from their grandsons and granddaughters who are writing new chapters of heroism around the globe. Thus, it is a source of 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.”

Dad conveyed in words precisely how each of us in the Ford family feels about this wonderful tribute.  So today and in our every tomorrow, we will fondly remember those words with the knowledge that the USS Gerald R. Ford and her crew will forever embody a tribute to Dad that was -- and is -- without equal.

Secretary Winter, on behalf of Mother and the entire Ford Family, please accept our sincere gratitude and appreciation for the extraordinary honor which you have given Dad.

May God Bless and watch over the USS Gerald R. Ford and her crew.  And may God Bless America. 

Thank you very much.