An Awesome Sight
On Sunday at 3:15 PM, in Newport News, Virginia, America's newest
Nimitz-class aircraft career was christened USS Ronald Reagan -
CVN 76 in the Navy's inventory. The obligatory bottle of champagne
was successfully smashed against its side by Mrs. Nancy Reagan,
who celebrated the 49th anniversary of her marriage to the 40th
Sitting almost directly underneath the bow of the great ship affords
an awesome sight indeed. The dimensions, described factually in
the souvenir brochure, do not begin to communicate the sensation
of looking up twenty stories high above the water line, or along
the port side of this floating miracle, as long as the Empire State
Building is tall.
On this occasion, a blue-white-red ribbon encased the entire flight
deck, and our nation's colors were on display wherever the eye roamed.
But it was a different display I would like to capture in these
Already pelted by rain for three quarters of an hour and shivering
in the icy wind, people nevertheless removed their headgear to salute
the flag, to sing the national anthem, and to listen to the stirring
invocation. The band played patriotic songs (beautifully), and we
heard speeches one might expect on such festive occasions. "Warmed
up" by the Governor of the host state, the Chief of Naval Operations,
Virginia's two U.S. Senators, and the Secretaries of the Navy and
of Defense, our new President spoke eloquently to the assembled
The speeches, of course, paid homage to Ronald and Nancy Reagan,
to our men and women in uniform, and to the special global role
of the United States Navy. But most of them used the allotted time
to speak about the purpose of building these giants of the seven
seas, these witnesses to America's unmatched ability.
None of the speakers mentioned new territories to be occupied,
peoples to be bent to America's will, or tributes to be collected
from the weak as has been the custom of the strong. They spoke of
protecting liberty at home and abroad, and to spread it far and
wide so it may benefit all. They dedicated this new vessel to the
"So what else is new," you might say, "it's the
standard American message."
Indeed it is.
May we please stop just for a moment.
Have we come to take all this for granted? Where else have we heard
of a people that has succeeded in being stronger than any other,
not just among its contemporaries, but in the history of Planet
Earth, and has elected to apply that strength to defense? Where
else have we heard of a people that will fight on foreign soil without
claiming an inch of that soil?
Do we know of another nation that, armed with Nimitz-class nuclear-powered
aircraft carriers, would create and host an institution in which
all the peoples of the world are represented, and accept the vote
of assorted countries whose boats are powered by paddles as equal
to its own? Have we heard of other victors who dispense money and
goods to the vanquished? Or who provide loans with no real expectation
of receiving but token interest, much less repayment?
For such is the nation that was on display in the shipyards at
Newport News. There were people who can design, construct, and equip
these improbable floating fortresses. People who will serve on them,
under conditions infinitely more trying than the rain drenching
this audience. People who came together to honor the man whose name
the ship commemorates, and his wife whose sponsorship the vessel
proudly acknowledges, and with it the country that has given such
men and women to the world. It would be a safe bet that everyone
present - officials on the platform, navy personnel, invited guests,
even spectators - have served one way or another.
Pride in service to the nation has been one of the grandest traditions
that set America apart from other countries. Holding in high honor
those who have served has been another. And the desire of Americans
to serve their country has resulted in a nation willing to be of
service to other nations.
Oh yes, it is easy to criticize, to recite the errors, the shortcomings,
the litany of America's imperfections. We hear them every day and
every night, from talking heads, sitcom stars, even elected representatives.
It is much more difficult to do what many believe this nation was
created to do. "Democracy," Ronald Reagan used to remark,
"is not a spectator sport."
Those at the christening represented countless members of countless
generations for whom "peace on Earth and goodwill toward man"
is not an empty slogan. Their presence was no less impressive than
the 47,000 tons of structural steel and the million pounds of aluminum
used to build the USS Ronald Reagan.
Yes, America was on display.
A truly awesome sight.