NEWPORT NEWS, VA. Former President Bush wrote his initials in chalk on a metal plate Saturday to literally mark the first milestone in the construction of a $4 billion aircraft carrier that will bear his name.
A welder then etched the initials into the plate with a torch during a ceremony at Northrop Grumman's Newport News shipyard, the nation's only builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
"I hereby declare the keel of this ... U.S. Navy aircraft carrier true and fairly laid," Bush, a decorated World War II Navy pilot, told the 3,000 invited guests.
Bush wrote his initials, GHWB, on the plate, then wiped them off and rewrote them in larger script. He said he thought the letters in his first effort were too small for the welder.
"A lot of nice things happen to you when you become a former president. People are for you, you know what I mean?" Bush said. "The naming of this carrier has got to be exceptionally special."
Bush saluted the shipbuilders and those who will sail in the George H.W. Bush. He also touched on the war against terrorism.
"It seems to me that ignoring the threats rising up against our way of life is to shirk our solemn responsibilities," he said. "Those who doubt our will not only underestimate the resolve of our president, they also sell short the selfless men and women who dedicate their lives in service to the American armed forces."
The keel-laying ceremony is a tradition dating to the era of wooden sailing ships. The initials of the guest of honor would be carved into the keel, or timber backbone of the ship, to "authenticate" the keel.
The carrier has been under construction since 2001. The country's 10th Nimitz-class carrier, the Bush is expected to be ready to join the Navy in 2008.