• Admiral (Ret) Pat Walsh (1988-89) Gives Speech at USS Gerald R. Ford Commissioning

    USS GERALD R. FORD (CVN-78) Commissioning

    Saturday, 22 July 2017

    Keynote Remarks by Admiral (Ret) Pat Walsh (WHF 1988-89)

    Friends, we stand in awe as we look at this magnificent ship. I think you would agree that our nation is indeed fortunate to have the skills and generations of service from the Newport News shipbuilder team – please help me to thank them for building the world’s finest and most capable aircraft carrier.

    I am blessed to be here in Grand Rapids, to share the memory of an American family at this great event, and join in the pride and the gratitude for Michigan’s favorite son. It is a rare privilege and high honor to recognize a magnificent leader, renowned statesman, and life-long public servant, represented before us now as a man-of-war and ship of steel.

    If all that we had to work from today was a resume, I suggest we would miss much of the treasure and richness of this giant of a man. I am grateful for all who have joined us this morning…from many diverse occupations, neighborhoods, and careers and given us a view into his hometown. Your participation today helps us to complete the picture of an historical figure and hero known to most of us simply as, Mr. President…now, you and this beautiful museum help us to tell the story of his true measure and greatness as a citizen, a sailor, and our fellow man.

    My remarks begin with you…extended friends and family of this legacy…because days pass too quickly, our opportunities with each other too fleeting, our reunions too limited, to miss a chance to express our thanks and gratitude to each other, for each other. Life has taught us that we should not allow special moments such as today, to slip by quietly. Whether we realize it, sense it, or understand it completely, we are part of a great circle of community, history, and tradition, where one generation cares for and nurtures the next. Gerry Ford did that for my generation – today we honor his name on a ship whose sailors will endeavor to carry his example of honor, courage, and commitment forward…and bring his ideas of selfless public service to life for generations to follow.

    Gerald Ford would love this day; he would relish it, not because of the attention drawn to him…but rather, he would see today as a way to draw attention to the beauty of the country he loved and the people whom he admired…to understand why, you would have to look at this setting, this backdrop, and this audience through his eyes…where the water would draw his gaze.

    “As each of us looks upon this great ship, a single thought must seize our minds: Only the United States of America can make a machine like this. There is nothing like her in the world today…[where we now] witness the magic moment when an intricate mass of steel and cable and sophisticated marvels of engineering suddenly becomes a living thing with a unique personality.”

    “No matter how often you take part in [a ship commissioning], breaking the pennant and setting the first watch involves a special reward for all of us who love the sea and the United States Navy…This great ship is a symbol of [national response to] today’s challenging times. She is a symbol of the United States, of our immense resources in materials and skilled manpower, of our inexhaustible energy, of the inventive and productive genius of our free, competitive economic system, and our massive but controlled military strength.”

    “Wherever this United States Ship shows her flag, she will be seen as we see her now, a solid symbol of United States strength, United States resolve – made in America and manned by Americans. She is a movable part and parcel of our country, a self-contained city at sea plying international waters of the world in defense of our national interests. Whether her mission is one of defense, diplomacy, or humanity, this ship will command awe and admiration from some… caution and circumspection from others…and respect…from all.”

    Well…I wish that I could take credit for that statement…I cannot. The 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, delivered these timeless and prescient remarks from Pier 12, Norfolk Naval Air Station, at the commissioning of U.S.S. Nimitz CVN-68, on May 3, 1975, the first of a new class of (what would become) 9 nuclear powered aircraft carriers that began with the one named in honor of Admiral Chester Nimitz.

    President Ford knew of Admiral Nimitz while serving aboard USS Monterey in the Pacific theater of operation. In this 1975 commissioning speech, President Ford extolled the personal virtues of the former Pacific Fleet Commander. He spoke to the audience of family, friends, shipyard workers, and prospective Nimitz sailors of his profound admiration for this remarkable naval strategist, visionary, and successful commander…but NOT by providing the audience a long list of accomplishments from the ruin of Pearl Harbor to the deck of Missouri in Tokyo Bay…but, from the inside out…by describing Nimitz’s remarkable character, integrity, and honesty. In his own words President Ford said, “Looking back on a period of my own life, one of the things of which I am the proudest is that I can say, I served under Admiral Nimitz in the Pacific.”

    In his public expression of esteem and respect for Admiral Nimitz, Gerald Ford revealed himself, his own values, his own priorities and humanity…through the selfless, genuine, innocent praise of his fellow man.

    The President’s speech took the audience through a remarkable account of the life and times of Chester Nimitz, thematically weaving how elements of hard work and military discipline prepared the Admiral for campaigns, and enemy encounters, punctuated with personal insights and assessments of risk, character, and virtue.

    Quote — “Of all the great commanders in World War II, Admiral Nimitz was one of the most self-effacing and certainly one of the most effective. He possessed great stamina, an abundance of common sense, and such immense inner strength that he felt no need to strut or to shout….born in simple surroundings at the poverty level, Nimitz worked hard, and was a long, long time getting ahead. He spent his whole life training to serve his country…and when he was needed, he was prepared. He learned by his mistakes and was tolerant of others, but he was always in command.“ President Ford closed his remarks with, “Nimitz’s personal philosophy has long been a personal inspiration to me. His fundamental honesty, intellectual honesty, and integrity, enabled him to keep a steady course toward his ultimate objective without yielding to the tremendous pressures of his vast responsibilities.” End quote

    In this poignant moment, Gerald Ford’s precision of words, clarity of thought, skilled hand, and penetrating arrangement of ideas, not only elevated the stature of Chester Nimitz, it introduced the audience to the principled ethos, strength of character, and soul of the commander-in-chief; his remarks left prospective sailors in the audience inspired and ready to man the rails.


    As a junior officer, Gerald Ford exemplified honor, valor, bravery, and leadership in combat. He made critical decisions on his feet, and took great personal risk aboard USS Monterey.

    He applied what he learned here, in Grand Rapids, from numerous part-time jobs, the Boy Scouts, as an All-American athlete on the grid-iron, to his dogged pursuit of a law degree, to service in the Navy, in combat and in government, and brought a sense of history, a practical understanding of human behavior, and clear view of the choices that we can make as individuals, as a group, and as a culture to the highest office in the land…and made us better for it.

    It is this side of Gerry Ford that still talks to us today despite a threat environment that is complex, complicated, and constantly changing…and a political environment driven by self-interest and is self-defeating. He understands us because he knows our better angels; he knows our limitations; he knows our fragile nature; he also knows our strengths and the formula for how to keep us whole and how to keep us honorable…and like a light in the darkness…He knows the value of character and honest thinking, how we need critics to challenge us and make us grow, as well as the power of ideas, truth, openness, and character to guide us.

    For Gerald Ford, public service was a calling, not a job, a task, or even a career. Simply put, it was a way of living that centered on the power of character and the foundational role it played in all of our interactions – as a solitary individual, as a team, as a nation.

    In the Navy, we take risks to achieve something that we believe in, with people whom we believe in and trust with our lives. In doing so, we have a sense of purpose and develop a sense of brotherhood in working for something larger than ourselves. The reward for our team is the fulfillment and satisfaction that we stood proudly when tested. The satisfaction for those who wear the uniform is grand in scale and will last (as President Ford has attested) a lifetime.

    John F. Kennedy reminded us that “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” Today we preserve the name USS FORD through 100,000 tons of American diplomacy, capable of operating in any ocean at anytime. When USS FORD takes to sea, she will be the most capable warship afloat. Possessing state of the art power generation systems, sensors, next generation catapults and arresting gear, and a highly lethal and precise weapons arsenal, she will protect our national interests on the world stage well into the 21st Century. President Ford would remind us, however, that technology alone is no guarantee for security; it cannot replace the judgment of individual leaders in the messy, chaotic environment this ship is about to enter.

    For the tasks that lay ahead and many years of duty, President Ford’s example instructs us on the history, heritage, and brotherhood of our Navy. We commission this ship with a sense of excitement, but also with a sense of deep respect and obligation to our predecessors who stood watch before us.

    In a few minutes, the Ford family will give the order…to bring this ship to life. The crew will run to their stations with youthful enthusiasm and a solemn sense of obligation to this great family.

    I have one charge for the crew: understand his values, follow his personal example, judgment, and remember how Gerald Ford stood proudly for all that we represent…then I am confident that you will man the helm with integrity.

    Life at sea has taught us that the ethical battleground for what we do is in the day-to-day. While the mission has moments that seem tedious and the daily grind, sometimes mundane, the habits we form reflect the most important choices we make … for each day we choose to either blunt or sharpen our skills. President Ford taught us what it means to be a practitioner of what we value — that we cannot summon those skills in a moment of crisis if we have squandered them by complacency, inconsistency, or the compromise of professional standards.

    The testing ground for us is the here and now. The only preparation that we have for the one profound decision that can change a life or turn a page in history is in the hundreds of half-conscious, seemingly insignificant decisions that we make in the course of the daily routine.

    This ship will deploy…the city within it will come alive…they will go forward…families, as President Ford once said, “will do a lot of waiting for the sake of our country and of freedom everywhere.”…the crew will stand watch…and they will join the battle, led by the name of Grand Rapids favorite son…as a few, a happy few, a band of brothers who stand proudly for America. And, in your honor, Mr. President, this crew will bring integrity to the helm and turn a page in history.

    May God bless you…FORD and her crew, the United States of America…and all those who stand with us.

    posted: August 1, 2017
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