President Carter, Mrs. Carter, Vice President Mondale, Mrs. Mondale, Senator Reed, Senator Dodd, Congressman Simmons, platform party and distinguished guests, I’m certainly pleased there have been these warm-up speeches. I hope you’re all settled in and your ears are tuned and in 45 minutes I’ll finish.
This is a great day for the Navy; this is a great day for the nation; and it’s a great day for a great president. But I’d like to address my remarks first to Captain Kelso and in the tradition of old admirals, I’m going to do it by telling him a sea story. If you don’t know what a sea story is, it’s something that an old admiral imagined happened in his past and he now tells about with exaggeration.
Captain Kelso, some years ago I was in a position that now must be yours, as the commissioning skipper of a naval warship. Of course, it had sails rather than nuclear power.
Today, if you asked me “what’s the most rewarding experience of your entire career?” from ensign to admiral, to Chief of Intelligence to professor, in a flash I would say to you, “it was having been commissioning skipper of a naval warship.” Why? When I left that ship after two years, I knew it was a good ship. We had taken it to Vietnam and engaged it in combat. I knew it was a happy ship. I knew that I could take personal satisfaction from all that. I’d taken a hunk of steel and a bunch of machinery such as what’s here on JIMMY CARTER, infused a crew into it, trained that crew, rehearsed our ways of operating and was responsible. I did not inherit a ship that someone else had built and manned and trained. It was all mine, good or bad. Captain Kelso, when you are required in a few years to stand on deck and say, “I stand relieved, sir,” you ‘re going to look back with similar satisfaction. So do a good job, skipper, it’s all responsibility and it will all be your reward. And you’ll live with it the rest of your life.
And now I’d like to address some similar remarks to the officers and crew of JIMMY CARTER; I’d like to give you a similar charge. Whether you are the mess cook or the Executive Officer, the style and the tone in which you do your job in JIMMY CARTER will set the pace of this ship for a long time to come. Yes, there will be others who will follow you and will change what you set up, but your imprint will last a long time. Make it a good imprint. Make it a professional imprint. Make it an imprint of teamwork that will make this boat an effective unit of the U.S. Navy and a happy one. Yours is a great responsibility as plank owners, and it will be a greater responsibility of any of those who come behind you. Do your best to make this the best ship it can possibly be.
Now, there is a lot that you each can learn from studying JIMMY CARTER. Let me give you an example. In late 1975, I was passing through Atlanta, Georgia. I called and asked if I could have an appointment with my friend and Naval Academy classmate, Governor Carter. I was given a 30-minute opportunity and I was delighted. I thought maybe we’d sit back and reminisce about the days at Annapolis and climbing over the wall, which, maybe, we shouldn’t have done. We took 30 seconds to talk about the old days, but then I suddenly found myself being interrogated, intensely. This governor was asking me questions about the Fleet I commanded, asking me about the readiness of the Navy and the personnel situation, the money situation. Then I suddenly found myself over my head and out of my depth. I could not truly answer these as well as I thought I should have. I actually sent him a letter afterwards following up where I couldn’t answer. At the end of 29 minutes because he’s a very punctual person, he stood up, escorted me to the door, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Stan, I want you to know that the day after tomorrow, I’m announcing my run for the presidency.” I said, “Good luck, Jimmy!” And then I went out the door and smiled to myself and wondered, “how could this governor who nobody’s ever heard of become the president of the United States?” I mean, he’s a classmate of mine you know, it just can’t be. Well, that was the last time I ever called him Jimmy.
Now, the lesson of this for you in the crew is that here was a man who was preparing himself for bigger things, for his next job. He was taking advantage of every opportunity to learn. And each of you need to take that as a model for yourselves because that’s the way you’re going to improve, you’re going to move forward, you’re going to move JIMMY CARTER forward and the United States with it. I also urge you, the crew, to be proud of the fact that your ship is named for Jimmy Carter, the 391h president. Because where Jimmy Carter stands out over all presidents I have known in my lifetime, is in the model that he carved for both being an effective president, but also showing the world what the United States stands for in values, integrity, morality, and in unselfish compassion for others in the pursuit of peace. A few days after I went to work for Jimmy Carter as his Chief of Intelligence, he handed me a document that he had written about how human rights would be the centerpiece of his foreign policy. I read it and thought it was marvelous, but I also thought it was impractical. The United States had never taken human rights that far forward. Today, as a result of Jimmy Carter’s initiative, we all just accept the fact that promoting human rights is part of our obligation as a nation: in part, because of our sense of humanity, in part because we know it’s an essential step on the road to world peace. Jimmy Carter was ahead of his time. And I’m grateful that two years ago, the Nobel Peace Institute recognized that and awarded him the Peace Prize.
Let me tell you of another incident in my experience with President Carter. A terrifying experience of 444 excruciating days when Americans were being held hostage in our own embassy in Iran, from 1979 to 1981. Every day of that crisis, you could just feel the President’s chances of reelection just ebbing away. Never once did I suspect that any decision President Carter made with respect to those hostages was colored by his electoral prospects. What he thought was most likely to rescue those hostages and get them back home safely, is exactly what he did. This was integrity at its very best.
During that 444 days, on one occasion the President had his foreign policy team come up to Camp David for discussion. The Iranians had just put a proposal on the table. They would give us back the hostages if we would agree to have the United Nations come and make a thorough inspection or review of what they said was United States interference over many years in the internal affairs of Iran. I spoke up at this point, raised my hand and said, “Mr. President, I think we ought to agree, get the hostages back, and then renege on the promise to let the United Nations to conduct a review. After all, we’re doing this under duress.” Well, I can’t tell you the look I got across the table. I wish I could have slid under the table. The President said to me, “Stan, you know we can’t do that.” His presidential horizon was, of course, much broaderthan mine. He was thinking of the reputation of the United States in the world, and that we could not permit ourselves to be accused of duplicity. And so I say to you that Jimmy Carter is a beacon that will always be important for the United States to hold high: a beacon that tells the world we are honest, that tells the world we do have integrity in the way we go about our business, that we do have concern for others in our foreign policy; and that we’re not just selfish. And as a nation I suggest when we look back at the years 1977 to 1981, when Jimmy Carter was our President, we should thank him for the moral light that be brought and which has never shone brighter. It has never shone brighter because we had a President who did not just espouse morality, but who was himself, moral to the core. If we, as a nation, are going to lead the world today, and it badly needs our leadership, we won’t get that leadership because we have great economic strength, because we have immense military power, because we are very astute diplomatic people. We will get that world leadership because the world respects us. So as you sail this ship around the world, never forget that the name of your ship tells the world that the United States does care for others, that the United States does do what it deems to be right, that the United States lives up to its word, that the United States’ role in the world is based on morality and a quest for peace.
President Carter, we ‘re so glad you are that beacon for our country. Congratulations, on this much deserved honor today.