NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. — It's hard to imagine that tough, gruff Dick Cheney was once a wonder-filled 4-year-old.
But in a speech that the vice president gave here Friday, he recalled how the U.S. Navy's recruit training base loomed large in "one of my earliest memories" — his father, returning from basic training to the Cheney home in Nebraska on young Dick's fourth birthday during World War II.
"I had all sorts of questions for him," Cheney said. "Where had he been? What had he been doing? Dad explained to me that he was in the Navy. He said he was a yeoman."
The elder Richard Cheney showed his son his insignia as a petty officer third class, with crossed quill pens, which represented his job as a yeoman, beneath an eagle.
"I concluded that when Dad was at home, he was just Dad," Cheney said. "But when he went back to the Navy, he turned into a bird.
"So very early in life, I decided that the United States Navy could do just about anything."
Earlier, to commemorate his father's time at Great Lakes, Cheney was presented with a framed mural that included photographs of the base during World War II and the insignia of a petty officer third class — his father's rank.
Cheney's boyhood memories came during comments to about 5,000 recruits and sailors. Most of the speech was a standard defense of post-9/11 national security policies, including a veiled reference to controversial interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration that critics say are torture.
"We've interrogated high-value detainees, and gotten information that has saved American lives," Cheney said. "It's good we captured them, and it's good we found out what they knew."
Cheney also toured the training facility at Great Lakes, where the Navy trains new recruits. His tour included a simulated missile attack on a |ths-scale indoor destroyer, complete with explosive sounds and blinking lights. Cheney watched, arms crossed, lips pursed, as Navy personnel demonstrated how they're trained to respond to such an attack, including firefighting and tending the wounded.
"We're evaluating them on their ability to keep their ship safe," Chief Petty Officer Ion Rebak told Cheney.
"Looks like a great system," Cheney declared at tour's end. "Thanks for all you do. We really appreciate it."
Cheney then flew to Michigan to attend a fundraiser for first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) before returning to Washington.
To learn more about Naval Station Great Lakes, go to: http://www.nsgreatlakes.navy.mil/