By Sen. Carl Levin
Over Veterans Day weekend, I had the honor of giving the keynote speech at the christening ceremony of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier.
We Michiganians are proud to call President Ford one of ours. That’s not just because he held our nation’s highest office, but because of the manner in which he held that office – with a fundamental goodness of heart and generosity of spirit that all of us in public life should try to emulate.
There is perhaps no more visible, more powerful representation of America’s military strength than the towering hull of an aircraft carrier. No other nation makes carriers like America makes them, and the USS Gerald R. Ford will be the most powerful American carrier ever to sail.
Yet for every time this ship will instill doubt in the minds of our adversaries, it will many more times give hope to our friends and the people of the world. It will be welcome support in a time of crisis, and it will bring comfort and aid in times of disaster and grief. And so it is truly fitting that it will bear the name of Gerald R. Ford.
Gerald Ford sought to replace division and doubt with unity and hope. He took office at one of the most tumultuous moments in the history of our democratic system. His task was to calm America’s stormy waters so that we could regain our self-confidence as a nation. George H.W. Bush observed as Vice President Ford prepared to take office as president, “What we need at this juncture in our history is a certain sense of morality and a certain sense of decency.” That’s the perfect description of Gerald Ford. He was the right man for the time.
He knew our true strength, the strength that would carry us through that trying time, wasn’t just in the force of our arms, but what is in our hearts. In a 1975 speech outlining his foreign policy goals, President Ford spoke of the need to build a strong military, but then said, “I would like to talk about another kind of strength, the true source of American power. … I am speaking here of our belief in ourselves and our belief in our nation.”
That is the spirit this great vessel will carry across the oceans. It embodies our military might, and much more: It carries the name of a president who showed us America at its best, an America that strives to bring hope to every corner of the planet and to do so with strength, but without bluster.
Then-Congressman Ford brought a moment of modest humor to the solemn moment he was sworn in as vice president. He told America, “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.” He showed us that one need not take on extraordinary trappings to accomplish extraordinary things, just as the men and women of this ship, drawn from every part of this land and every segment of our society, ordinary Americans all, will accomplish the extraordinary.
In the decades to come, when the crew of the USS Gerald R. Ford helps defend our nation from danger, when they protect the innocent from harm, when they sail under freedom’s flag bringing hope in times of despair and calm in moments of crisis – at those times, they will exemplify the greatness and goodness, the steadiness and steadfastness of their vessel’s namesake, and of the nation he loved so much and served so well.
Godspeed to the USS Gerald R. Ford and to the men and women who sail her.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.