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Navy Secretary Donald Winter's Remarks at the Naming Ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)

Pentagon Auditorium
January 16, 2007

Vice President Cheney, members of the Ford family, distinguished guests, welcome, and thank you for coming to participate in today’s naming ceremony.

To be chosen as an aircraft carrier’s namesake is a rare honor.

A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is a symbol that is recognizable throughout the world.

It represents American power.

It is a reminder of America’s global interests, and global reach.

It is, in the eyes of the American people, a safeguard in a troubled and dangerous world.

At moments of crisis, Americans from presidents to schoolteachers to cabdrivers anxiously await the latest news of an aircraft carrier’s progress, knowing that wherever threats emerge, an American carrier will get the call.

Today it is my great pleasure to announce that the Department of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, CVN 78—the first in a new class of carriers—will be named--USS GERALD R. FORD.

President Ford, as many Americans have over the years come to fully appreciate, was an historical figure, a great president, and a man of the highest character.

America has been blessed, in the eyes of many, with leaders who were able to steer the American ship of state through dangerous waters during our Nation’s most difficult crises.

We think of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, and Ronald Reagan during the Cold War.

President Ford assumed the presidency during the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War, at a time when the public’s faith in government was shaken.

But America was blessed once again with a leader for the times, a man with the integrity and character to heal the nation and restore trust in the presidency.

It is worth recalling an episode in President Ford’s life that is illustrative of his character. 

After Ford was chosen to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president, the FBI assigned 350 agents from 33 field offices to conduct an exhaustive background check on him. The FBI sent 70 agents alone to Ford’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Soon then-Congressman Ford’s office in Washington, DC received a stream of phone calls from friends and associates who wanted to let him know that they were being questioned. Ford had one stock reply:  “Tell them the truth—give them everything.” It was a philosophy that served him well over a long lifetime of public service, and that would serve him well as president.

His legacy includes service on an aircraft carrier during World War II, an experience made a lasting impression on him of a carrier’s capabilities. His Naval service was followed by 25 years in Congress, the vice presidency, the presidency, and an active career in support of worthy causes in the long twilight of his life.

President Ford’s reputation has steadily grown over the past three decades, and the judgment of history now recognizes the rightness of his most difficult and controversial decisions.

President Ford was heavily criticized at the time for signing the Helsinki Accords of 1975. And yet those agreements established the principle of individual rights, put a spotlight on the plight of Soviet refuseniks, and set the stage for the fall of the Soviet Union sixteen years later.

The Ford presidency will always be remembered for the pardon that was granted to Richard Nixon. The pardon was widely unpopular at the time, but it is now viewed as a critical step in moving our Nation forward.

President Ford did something that is all too rare in American politics—he put the national interest above his own political interest. He sacrificed his political career but he later earned a Profile in Courage award for his actions, and, even more important, the delayed but enduring respect of a grateful Nation.

Whether dealing with a dire financial crisis in New York City, the Vietnam War, or an economy ravaged by inflation and a world oil crisis, President Ford made tough decisions based on what he thought was the right thing to do.

In doing so, he set a standard of character and decency that future generations will respect and admire, and a standard of leadership for the United States Navy to uphold.

President Ford, I am pleased to say, had been informed before he passed that we had decided to name CVN 78 after him, and I know that he was enormously proud of and grateful for the honor.

What a wonderful capstone to a life in which his connection with aircraft carriers was deep and personal. He served aboard a carrier during war. As president, he commanded carriers in the fleet. During his tenure as president, he also commissioned USS NIMITZ, the first in its class of nuclear-powered carriers. No one could have appreciated more the honor of having a carrier named after him than President Ford.

May the future Sailors of USS GERALD R. FORD always show themselves to be worthy of their ship’s name, and may they always honor the legacy of a great man.

Thank you.