View Full Version : Aircraft carrier Reagan arrives in San Diego

07-24-04, 07:05 AM
Home for the first time

Aircraft carrier Reagan arrives in San Diego

1:24 p.m. July 23, 2004

SAN DIEGO Nancy Reagan told thousands of people gathered for an emotional homecoming with loved ones Friday that her late husband would have been so proud to have the Navy's newest nuclear carrier named for him.

The former first lady said she had been kept updated as the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class flattop as long as the Empire State Building, made its way on an 18,000 nautical mile, two-month journey from Norfolk, Va., around Cape Horn at the tip of South America to the carrier's homeport in San Diego Bay.

The late president's 83-year-old spouse, wearing a white suit that seemed to mimic the Navy dress whites worn by thousands of carrier personnel, acknowledged that her life has been trying since her husband's death June 5 at their Bel-Air home.

"Although the last six weeks have been difficult and today is very bittersweet, I'm so honored to be here as the USS Ronald Reagan comes into homeport," she said as she read from a brief prepared statement.

"Ronnie would have loved the sight of this great ship coming into his beloved California. I know how proud he was to have this ship named after him. And in my heart, I know he's looking down on us today and smiling.

"May God bless each and every one of you as you serve aboard the USS Ronald Reagan," she said, casting a glance upward as the throng waiting for loved ones who had been at sea for two months gave her a standing ovation.

The former first lady arrived by helicopter on the aircraft carrier, greeted by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and dozens of sailors.

"This is one government project that Ronald Reagan would be thrilled to have his name on," Wolfowitz told the crowd.

Mrs. Reagan, smiling as the breeze mussed her hair, shook hands with and greeted dozens of sailors, then went below deck to see the Ronald Reagan Room. It features Reagan's movie posters, his cavalry uniform and a chunk of the Berlin Wall.

The 1,096-foot ship has two nuclear reactors that can power the ship for more than 20 years without having to refuel. It carries more than 80 combat aircraft and can house up to 6,000 sailors. Entering San Diego Harbor, the aircraft carrier was greeted by a flotilla of pleasure boats.

Thousands of spectators, most of them family and friends of sailors on board, packed the piers at Naval Air Station North Island to greet the leviathan vessel. They carried greeting signs, cheered and waved U.S. flags.

The ex-president's son, Michael Reagan, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wolfowitz, members of Congress, state officials, Mayor Dick Murphy, actor Tom Selleck and other dignitaries were scheduled to attend the welcoming ceremony.

Selleck will host a fund-raiser on board tonight, to raise money to put computers on the ship so sailors can stay in touch with their families while at sea.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said the "USS Ronald Reagan takes its place among the great carriers that have called San Diego and Coronado its home."

San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and his Coronado counterpart Tom Smisek declared it "USS Ronald Reagan Day."

"It is especially fitting that a carrier honoring Ronald Reagan be homeported in San Diego," Murphy said. "President Reagan considered San Diego his lucky city, and conversely San Diego had a great affection for our 40th president."

Big-screen television screens highlighted Reagan's acting and political career before the ceremony began. Flags and signs welcoming the Reagan to its new port lined the streets of San Diego.

The ship, commanded by Capt. James A. Symonds, left Virginia in May.

"We are extremely happy to have landed here in San Diego, which I have told my crew is 'the promised land,"' Symonds said.

Some of the sailors' spouses, who moved to San Diego from Norfolk, said they enjoy their new home city.

Meredithe Grave moved into her new La Jolla apartment a week ago to settle in before her husband, Joshua, arrived on the ship today.

"So far, I love it," she said. "The weather is nice, the people are nice, the shopping is great. It's a bigger town with more opportunity."

First to disembark from the carrier was a Navy lieutenant commander, who won a "first kiss" raffle on board, followed by male crewmembers whose children were born while their dads were deployed.

"It brought tears to my eyes seeing everyone," sailor Natasha Swartley sailor as she left the Reagan.

During the trip the crew did training and air engagement exercises with Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

According to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce's Economic Research Bureau, the carrier will contribute $430.2 million annually to the local economy.

Five squadron detachments from Carrier Air Wing 11 are aboard the Reagan, including Strike Fighter Squadron 14 and 41.

Both squadrons fly F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft four of which flew over as the carrier arrived based at Naval Air Station Lemoore.

Also aboard were the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 117, based at Point Mugu, Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Six and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30, based in San Diego.


K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune
The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan enters San Diego Bay for the first time, accompanied by a fireboat spraying plumes of seawater.

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07-24-04, 09:29 AM
Wouldn't that be great to be a Sea Duty 'Plank Owner' of the USS Ronald Reagan!