Union Tribune

May 1, 2003

Bush continues seagoing tradition


WASHINGTON President Bush's stay aboard the Abraham Lincoln off San Diego today will continue an unbroken record of presidential visits to U.S. Navy aircraft carriers that goes back to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957.

Nearly half of those carrier visits have occurred in the same Southern California waters that Bush will sail through during his overnight cruise aboard the Lincoln as it nears the end of a war-extended deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The Lincoln will be the first U.S. warship Bush has gone aboard as president, an apt recognition of the major role that carriers have played in the conflicts that he ordered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Because the Lincoln will be too far off San Diego for a helicopter, Bush will fly to the carrier in a tactical aircraft, a historic first for a president.

After arriving at North Island Naval Air Station aboard Air Force One this morning, Bush will board a twin-jet S-3B Viking from Sea Control Squadron 35. The plane will make a cable-assisted landing on the Lincoln.

Though he served in the Texas Air National Guard, Bush will be merely a passenger strapped in next to the pilot, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "For the sake of the landing," Fleischer said. "I'm sure he will be doing no piloting."

Closer to land tomorrow, Bush will return by helicopter and leave North Island before the Everett, Wash.,-based carrier arrives in San Diego Bay.

The Navy will not discuss where Bush will stay during his night on the nuclear-powered carrier, citing security concerns. But the president could use either of spacious suite provided for the carrier battle group commander, Rear Adm. John M. Kelly, or the large cabin available to the Lincoln's commanding officer, Capt. Kendall Card.

Both provide a comfortable bedroom, with adjoining "head" Navy for bathroom and large conference or dining room located several levels above the flight deck.

Presidential staff likely will be put into some of the officer staterooms vacated by about half of the air wing's squadrons, which will have flown off to their home stations before Bush arrives.

Eisenhower started the trend of commanders-in-chief touring carriers with his overnight stay on the Saratoga in June 1957. But every U.S. president has spent time on a Navy vessel since John Tyler in 1844, although for several the only nautical exposure was on the presidential yachts.

Other presidents have spent a lot of time on warships, with the two Roosevelts both one-time assistant Navy secretaries leading the pack in visits.

Theodore Roosevelt, who had served as acting Navy secretary, visited at least six warships as president, including a primitive submarine in 1905.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had been assistant Navy secretary, spent months aboard 12 different warships, including many wartime voyages for overseas conferences with allied leaders.

Although neither Roosevelt ever visited a carrier, both have had flattops named for them.

George H.W. Bush followed FDR's example of using warships for security overseas. He stayed aboard the cruiser Belknap during a 1989 summit with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta and on the amphibious assault ship Tripoli during a New Year's 1992 visit to troops in Somalia.

The elder Bush, a World War II Navy carrier pilot, also visited the carrier Forrestal during his Malta stay.

John F. Kennedy, a PT boat captain in World War II, became the first president to visit a carrier off San Diego when he toured the Oriskany on June 6, 1963. He then spent that night aboard the Kitty Hawk, watching flight operations.

Lyndon B. Johnson spent a night aboard the nuclear-powered Enterprise off San Diego on Nov. 10-11, 1967.

Richard Nixon used two carriers to broadcast Armed Forces Day message to the troops: the Hornet on May 17, 1969, off the Virginia coast and the Independence on May 19, 1973, docked at Norfolk.

Jimmy Carter's visits aboard the carrier named for Eisenhower in 1978 and the Nimitz in 1980 occurred in the Atlantic. The former nuclear-qualified submariner toured the Eisenhower's nuclear reactor spaces probably the only president ever to visit that highly restricted area.

Ronald Reagan spent part of Aug. 20, 1981, on the San Diego-based Constellation, off the California coast.

Bill Clinton visited three carriers and spent a night aboard the George Washington on June 5-6, 1994, sailing from England to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.