NORFOLK, Va. — It's the perfect gift for an old Navy flier: 1,092 feet of flattop.
"What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed?" asked President Bush from aboard the Navy's newest ship. "Well, an aircraft carrier."
The USS George H.W. Bush, a steel-gray vessel longer than three football fields and built at a cost of $6.2-billion, was commissioned Saturday with its namesake, the 41st president, and other members of the Bush family on hand for the ceremonies at Naval Station Norfolk.
Adorned for the day with red, white and blue bunting, the George H.W. Bush is one of the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the largest warships in the world.
"The ship that bears our dad's name is more than 95,000 tons of aluminum and steel," President Bush said from a podium tucked under the flight deck. "She will carry nearly 6,000 of the finest sailors and Marines in the world. She represents the craftsmanship of many skilled builders and thousands of hours of preparation."
It was the ultimate honor for former President George Bush, a decorated World War II pilot.
The former president marveled at the carrier's 4.5-acre landing field, a tower that reaches 20 stories above the waterline, and its 1,400 telephones.
Speaking to the sailors preparing to serve on the new ship, his voice quavering at times with emotion, the former president said: "I wish I was sitting right out there with you, ready to start the adventures of my naval aviation career all over."
Bush, 84, joined the Navy on June 12, 1942, his 18th birthday and six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was first launched in 1972. The George H.W. Bush is the 10th and final vessel of its type.
No other former president has visited a carrier named after him. Ronald Reagan was the first living ex-president to have a carrier named in his honor, but he was unable to visit the vessel before he died.