Remarks Prior to the Departure of the USS Kitty Hawk

(as prepared)

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer
May 28, 2008
Yokosuka, Japan

Admiral Kelly, Admiral Crowder, thank you for the opportunity to come here on this special day and address this distinguished crowd. Senior Vice Minister Kimura, Mayor Kabaya, Mayor Hirai, President Iokibe, Admiral Saito and Admiral Akahoshi, it is an honor to be with you on a day of such historic importance to our alliance. We say goodbye to Kitty Hawk today after nearly ten years of distinguished service in Japan. Her departure is a symbol of the depth of our relationship and a step toward the day later this year when the USS George Washington will arrive.

The keel for Kitty Hawk was laid in 1956, fifty-three years after the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Now, nearly fifty-two years after construction began, the Kitty Hawk leaves for decommissioning after being in service for close to half of the one hundred and five year history of powered flight. Active duty took Kitty Hawk to every sea and every continent.

Kitty Hawk went into service at a time when the Cold War was at its height. On June 6, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, accompanied by top civilian and military leaders, boarded Kitty Hawk for a carrier task force weapons demonstration off the California coast. Addressing the crew, he said control of the seas could still mean the difference between war and peace and ultimate victory. He later wrote how impressed he was with these mighty carriers and their ability to preserve freedom in all parts of the world. Sadly, in November that same year, Kitty Hawk pulled into Sasebo on a port visit, with her flags at half mast because of the assassination of President Kennedy.

During the Vietnam War, Kitty Hawk played a vital role in support of our forces throughout Southeast Asia. After the war, she helped refugees who were escaping in small boats to find safe harbor.

During the 1980’s, Kitty Hawk was involved in one of the most bizarre episodes of the Cold War. She was participating in exercises in the Sea of Japan when a Soviet nuclear-powered attack submarine that had been shadowing the fleet surfaced under her. Both sub and carrier were damaged. The sub had to be towed back to her home port, while Kitty Hawk was pulled into Subic Bay in the Philippines, to have one of the sub’s screws removed from her hull.

In the 1990’s, Kitty Hawk was involved in Operations Restore Hope in Somalia and Southern Watch in Iraq. By the end of the decade, Kitty Hawk set sail for her most memorable role, ensuring the peace of Northeast Asia. Kitty Hawk arrived in Yokosuka in August of 1998.

Since then she has been forward-deployed in Japan. Kitty Hawk has been an integral part of the Global War on Terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kitty Hawk has been the visible symbol of strength and stability in a rapidly changing world order. Now, her duty done, she is headed home to the United States. But her contributions to the peace and security of Asia will ensure that she is never forgotten.

The American sailors departing from their home port today wave goodbye to a place that has a special place in their hearts. The City of Yokosuka has been home to tens of thousands of Kitty Hawk sailors in her decade of service. I know the overwhelming majority of those sailors look back on their time of service here with great affection. The people of Yokosuka were wonderful hosts. We appreciate the warmth of your welcome and the sincerity of your friendship. All of us hope that you will think of Kitty Hawk and its time here as a positive chapter in the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

We say goodbye to Kitty Hawk today. But as we close that door another will open when the USS George Washington takes her place. More important than the name of the ship, however, is the strength of the alliance that brings us here. From the bitterness of war to the friendship of peace, we have come to understand that when Japan and the United States stand together peace has its best chance. May we never forget and may we always cherish the alliance that has served our two great nations so well.

Goodbye Kitty Hawk, hello George Washington.