NORFOLK, Virginia (CNN) # The USS Ronald Reagan was formally commissioned Saturday, becoming the first aircraft carrier named after a living former president, and the newest nuclear-powered carrier in the Navy.
“Man the ship and bring her alive,” said former first lady Nancy Reagan, who was on hand for the ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk.
Vice President Dick Cheney called the USS Ronald Reagan “a great American ship bearing a great American name.
“If the purpose of naming an aircraft carrier is to convey the strength and seriousness of this country and our military, then we have certainly accomplished that,” Cheney said. “Something tells me that any potential adversary of the United States will take notice when word arrives that the USS Ronald Reagan has been sighted offshore.”
The former president, now 92 and ill with Alzheimer’s disease, did not attend the commissioning ceremony. But he was saluted for what U.S. Sen. John Warner of Virginia termed his “classic optimism and rugged spirit.
“It is most fitting that this carrier should bear a name that reflects audacity, decisiveness, as well as the respect that our adversaries will hold for it and the great nation it represents,” said Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Navy secretary.
Reagan, who served in the White House from 1981 to 1989 during the final decade of the Cold War, was also saluted for the military buildup he championed while president. The new ship’s motto, “Peace Through Strength,” was a favorite phrase he used to defend that policy.
“Nothing could shake his determination to rebuild the strength and the morale of every branch of the United States military,” Cheney said. “Nothing could shake his deep his moral confidence and sense of purpose. And because of these qualities, Ronald Reagan changed the course of history as few men have ever done.
“He has seen the cause he stood for vindicated in his own lifetime, and the free peoples of the world will honor his name for generations to come.”
Other than issuing the order to man the ship as part of the commissioning ceremony, Nancy Reagan, who turned 82 on Sunday, did not speak, though she drew a standing ovation from the crowd when she was introduced.
Two years ago, when the ship was christened before final completion, she broke the traditional bottle of sparkling wine over the bow, as President Bush looked on.
The carrier, built by a division of Northrop Grumman in nearby Newport News, Virginia, will replace the USS Constellation, which is being decommissioned after returning from service in the Iraq war.
The ship is almost 1,100 feet long and rises 20 stories above the water, with a flight deck covering 4.5 acres. Design work on the ship began in 1995, and the keel was laid in 1998.
The USS Ronald Reagan is the ninth Nimitz class carrier built for the Navy since 1975. Cheney noted that four of those ships were built as part of Reagan’s military buildup.