New aircraft carrier named for Bush due near Maine

Posted June 09, 2012, at 12:46 p.m.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Former President George H.W. Bush attended the commissioning of the nation’s newest aircraft carrier, which bears his name, and communicates regularly with the ship. This weekend, he’ll fly on a Navy helicopter from his summer home to the vessel as it sails near his summer home.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, along with their son, former President George W. Bush, and his wife, Laura, will fly to the carrier on Sunday morning, accompanied by other family members and security.

The USS George H.W. Bush is expected to come within several miles of Kennebunkport. The visit is close to Tuesday’s 88th birthday of the former president, who was a naval aviator during World War II.

Once on the ship, Bush will lead re-enlistment formalities for 77 sailors, in recognition of the carrier being hull No. 77, and perform other ceremonial duties, said Capt. Brian Luther, the ship’s commanding officer. The Bushes will take photos with crew members, and other family members who haven’t been on board before will be given tours.

The carrier’s visit comes just days after the Navy said a minor fire broke out on the ship. Officials said Thursday that the fire Wednesday night in an unoccupied berthing compartment was quickly extinguished and no one was injured.

The $6.2 billion warship is the 10th and final in the Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that were first launched in 1972. They are the largest warships in the world. The Bush has a crew of 2,800 sailors and 300 officers, Luther said.

The 41st president and other members of the Bush family attended commissioning ceremonies for the 1,092-foot ship in January 2009 at Norfolk. Among them was then-President George W. Bush, who took his last scheduled flight aboard Air Force One to get to the event.

In December, the Bush and its strike group arrived back in the carrier’s home port of Norfolk, Va., following a seven-month deployment, the first for the ship. It is the only aircraft carrier in the Navy fleet with a living namesake.

The former president is actively involved in maintaining two-way communications with the aircraft carrier, Luther said. Bush receives newsletters, photos and emails from the ship about its deployments and activities, and who’s scheduled to visit. In return, Bush sends back notes of his own, congratulating sailors on promotions and awards and asking Luther to give his greetings to visitors Bush knows.

The sailors are excited to be meeting Bush, especially given his experience flying off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific — and being shot down — during World War II, Luther said.

“This opportunity for the sailors to meet the namesake of the ship is a signature event in their careers,” Luther said.

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