GROTON, Conn. – Former President Jimmy Carter (search) was filled with emotion Saturday as the most advanced nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy was named after him at a Connecticut shipyard.
"This is a very wonderful day for me, to see my wife break the champagne on undoubtedly the finest and most formidable ship in the world," said Carter, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (search) and the only submariner to be elected president.
Carter's wife, Rosalynn, blessed the Seawolf-class nuclear submarine and its crew, then hesitated for a moment before cracking the bottle of champagne against the sail of the USS Jimmy Carter.
Amid much fanfare and cheers, a crowd of 4,500 Navy personnel, submarine workers and their families gathered at the Electric Boat shipyard for Saturday's christening ceremony. The Carters' daughter, Amy, also attended the ceremony.
Only nine people have had ships named after them while they are still alive in modern times, said Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy.
"President Jimmy Carter has surely earned his place in this elite group of citizens," England said.
Another was former President Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday. The christening ceremony had ended before Reagan's death was announced.
The $3.2 billion Jimmy Carter is the third and last of the Seawolf-class submarine. It has been nearly nine years in the making and still has about a year of finishing on its interior before it can be tested and commissioned.
As the ship's sponsor, Rosalynn Carter has been corresponding with the crew and its families. The Carters were stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton in the early 1950s during Carter's Navy service.
The submarine was built with extra capabilities to perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions, perform research and engage in undersea warfare. It also can handle different weapons and undersea vehicles than other ships in its class.
The ship will be "a needed constituent in the continued dominance of the seas by the United States Navy," said James Schlesinger (search), secretary of energy under Carter and also director of the Central Intelligence Agency and secretary of defense under President Richard Nixon.
In the war on terrorism, the submarine is a symbol to terrorists of the United States' military domination, Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger recalled Carter's work during his presidency and since he left office in 1981.
Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 2002 for helping solve international conflicts and for working for human rights and economic and social development around the world.
"This powerful instrument of war will be part of a deterrent that maintains the peace that Jimmy Carter has devoted so much of his life to preserve," Schlesinger said.
Vice Adm. Kirkland Donald, commander of Naval Submarine Forces, said the Navy is eager to get the ship into service. The crew already has been training to get ready for its commissioning.
The first ship in the class, the USS Seawolf, was commissioned in 1997. The USS Connecticut was commissioned the following year.