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Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for William L. Ball III as Secretary of the Navy

March 30, 1988

The President. Before we begin, I'd like to ask Rear Admiral John McNamara, United States Navy Chief of Chaplains, to say a prayer.

[At this point, a prayer was offered.]

The President. Please, be seated. We're all gathered here to welcome into the Office of Secretary of the Navy as my representative on Capitol Hill an outstanding public servant who has won the respect of the leaders of both parties and to whom I've repeatedly turned for help and advice for the past 2 years: Will Ball.

You know, sometimes you find that someone else has put things in a way you just can't improve upon. When Senator Talmadge introduced Will to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, "One prerequisite for the Secretary of the Navy is character. Will Ball has character in abundance." And he added, "The second prerequisite is patriotism, which Will Ball also has in abundance." Well, I second that all the way. Will takes over the Navy at a critical time. The defense budget has now been cut for 4 consecutive years. And yet we must maintain the gains this administration has made in rebuilding our naval and military capabilities. The good ship—or the 600-ship Navy remains our goal. Will's job will be to skipper our naval forces through some troubled waters, while keeping our Navy and Marine Corps team second to none.

Every good captain is concerned about the welfare of the men and women under his command. Will served 3 years aboard ship. He's had his sea legs for years, and he knows what matters to those who swab the decks, land on the shores, man the guns, fly the planes, live in the subs, and sail the oceans of the world in the cause of freedom. Keeping reenlistments high and the quality of our recruits the best it's ever been will be Will's other big assignment. That's never been easy, given the demands on our people who must deploy at sea for long periods of time and be separated from their families. This is but one of the challenges unique to the Navy facing our new Secretary, and I'm confident he's the man for the job. It's no secret that Will has a big job ahead of him. But I have a feeling that Will is just the fellow to give up a—or to give a few up on the Hill a dose of that old-time religion. After all, he's the son of a Baptist preacher, and I've seen he's a pretty good preacher himself when he gets going. [Laughter]

That puts me in mind of a story that they used to tell about someone who once had his office just down the hall, back when this magnificent room belonged to the Secretary of the Navy. It concerns Teddy Roosevelt, who, as you know, served for a time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Well, you remember Teddy—strong-willed, persuasive, and nothing could stop him. There used to be a story about him, that after he died, he got to heaven. And on his first day in heaven, he told Saint Peter, "Your choir is weak, inexcusably weak. You should reorganize it at once." And Saint Peter said, "All right," and gave T.R. the job. "Well," Teddy said, "I'll need 10,000 sopranos, 10,000 altos, and 10,000 tenors." "But what about the basses?" asked Saint Peter. Teddy said, "Don't worry about that. I'll sing bass." [Laughter] A one-man bass section—well, that's your job now, Will.

Good luck, and God bless you. And now we'll have the swearing-in.

[At this point, Secretary Ball was sworn in.]

Secretary Ball. Thank you, Mr. President. You honor me and my family by your presence here, and I shall be forever grateful to you for the privilege of serving on your staff and for this great opportunity you have given me. I also want to thank my new boss, Secretary [of Defense] Carlucci, for being here; my former boss, Secretary [of State] Shultz, for being here; and the other members of the Cabinet who could join us today. I especially appreciate the many Members of Congress who have come down from the Hill on a very busy day to be with me in this historic room to share this special moment. I want to express special gratitude to Senator Howard Baker for his guidance and leadership and his patience with me as Chief of Staff. And of course, I will forever owe a debt of gratitude to John Tower for the opportunities and the lessons and the inspiration that he gave to me years ago.

And it was just 23 years ago that I received a message from another gentleman in this room, when I was a senior in high school, and my mother called from home and said I'd received a telegram. And she, as an inquisitive mother would want to do, opened it, and it was a message from my senior Senator saying that I had been accepted in the Navy's ROTC program. And it was that message that began my forthcoming association with the Navy. One week ago, that same senior Senator called me and told me that the Senate had just confirmed me as Secretary of the Navy. And I don't know of any duty that a constituent could ask a senior Senator to do more than that which Strom Thurmond has done for me and for my family down through the years.

Mr. President, on Monday I had occasion to visit the Coral Sea, the aircraft carrier, and she's just returned from a 6-month deployment with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. On that great ship I was immediately able to see one of the many legacies that you will leave to history. This particular legacy is perhaps the one that matters most to those who serve at sea. It is indeed written on the faces of those Coral Sea sailors, in their spirit and dedication. It can be seen in the cleanliness of the fire rooms and engine rooms far below decks. It signifies what you have done, Mr. President, for our seagoing people, who are proud once again, thanks to you. And I might add that as befits a ship that so reflects the accomplishments of this President in office, the nickname given to the Coral Sea is the "Ageless Warrior." [Laughter]

I am ready to assume my duties, Mr. President, and with the continued support and assistance of the Congress, we on your Navy and Marine Corps team will remain strong and prepared and will plan wisely for our future so that we can stay that way. As you have time and again explained to the American people, it is only by doing so that we can expect to preserve the peace and ultimately extend the special gift that is freedom to people the world over. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:47 a.m. in the former office of the Secretary of the Navy at the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for William L. Ball III as Secretary of the Navy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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