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 President.
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 lines.
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 crowd.
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 task.
"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.