In March 2001 in Newport News, Va., with a relentless rain falling, Nancy Reagan, wrapped against the chill, christened the aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, the metal mountain that is the most powerful ship on earth.
On July 17, 2003, at the Norfolk, Va., shipyard, Nancy Reagan, under a blazing sun, wearing a white cotton pantsuit, sponsored the commissioning of this same great ship named for her husband, following a great naval tradition called “Bringing the Ship to Life.” Indeed, when Nancy sang out the words “I bring this ship to life,” she was doing just that as 20,000 people looked on.
The USS Ronald Reagan, under construction since February 1998, is the newest and most modern carrier ever to join the U.S. Navy. She is a marvel of nuclear power, a behemoth warship, heavily manned and equipped to conquer. The steel embodiment of President Reagan’s motto, “Peace Through Strength.”
This then is the Ronald Reagan: She cost $6 billion to build — American taxpayers footed the bill — and travels at a speed of 30 knots. Her airfield encompasses four and a half acres. The ship is 1,096 feet long, 26 stories above the waterline, weighs 722 tons, carries more than 80 aircraft and a crew of 6,000 sailors. Fully loaded, she can carry $3.5 million worth of food, serves 18,000 meals a day, around the clock, prepared by 87 cooks. (She is proud of her menu, which some would say borders on the gourmet.) The two anchors weigh 30 tons each and she is the first carrier designed to accommodate women. She will sail the seas for 50 years and will refuel just once during that period before her lifetime is over. Her home port will be San Diego.
After a buffet breakfast aboard the carrier given by Captain J.W. Goodwin, the ship’s commanding officer, the commissioning ceremony began. It was magnificent. Nancy arrived aboard a helicopter with Vice President Dick Cheney, the principal speaker of the afternoon, and Mrs. Cheney. Her personal guests and closest friends were assigned special seats, as were distinguished guests, VIPs and ranking admirals in full white dress, the hot sun shining off their golden shoulder boards and on the sunglasses almost everyone wore. Overhead, fluttering from the ship’s bridge were hundreds of pennants and in the background maybe the biggest American flag in the world. The pride and awe were palpable.