This weekend, the US Navy commissioned the 10th and final Nimitz class carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, CVN-77. It is, of course, named after the 41st President of the United States. Interestingly, it is only the second carrier named after a Naval Aviator (the USS Forrestal, CV-59 is the other).
George Bush joined the Navy in June of 1942, at age 18, and within less than a year, had been commissioned and rated as a Naval Aviator. He was still 18 at the time. He may have been the youngest Naval Aviator ever (there is some contention here, but he’s certainly in the top 10). Trained to fly the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, Bush was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 51, aboard the light carrier USS San Jacinto, CVL-30. During operations in the Bonin Islands, Bush’s plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire from the shore. He was able to bail out offshore, but tragically, his crewmen were lost. He was recovered by the submarine USS Finback, SS-230, and remained on board until he was transferred back to the San Jac almost a month later. Bush completed 58 combat missions during the war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation (awarded to the USS San Jacinto).
CVN-77 is the final ship of the Nimitz class. She is 1092 feet long and displaces roughly 97,000 tons. Being nuclear powered, she never needs to refuel. She can maintain her top speed of over 30 knots almost indefinitely. Her flight deck is roughly 4.5 acres, and will serve as the home to an airwing of up to 75 planes.
Now, this is an Army blog, but I am just a little partial to Naval Aviation. I’m the son of a Naval Aviator. In fact, Dad was just about the last person in his squadron to know that I’d been born. He was riding the USS Enterprise, CVAN-65, off the coast of California while preparing for a combat cruise to Vietnam. He did manage to sneak home for a couple days to see me, but just barely. It wasn’t for another 9 months until he came home and saw me again.
The commissioning of the newest carrier is a little unusual. Normally, ships aren’t named after people still alive. That’s a trend we’ve seen some erosion of lately. Further, it is highly unusual for a ship to be commissioned before it has undergone its sea trials and acceptance by the Navy. Obviously, this was modified so that President Bush (43) could be there, as President, for the commissioning of the ship named for his father. And of course, George H.W. Bush attended the commissioning of the great ship named for him. She will sail under the colors of our nation for half a century. Fair winds and following seas to all who man this magnificent ship.