"I've received countless honors, but none was greater than to wear the uniform of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. On an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II. I learned to respect and to rely on my comrades as if my life depended on them-because often it did! As a World War II veteran, I yield to no one in my admiration for the heroes of Omaha Beach and the heroes of Iwo Jima. But, at the same time, I take enormous inspiration from their grandsons and granddaughters who are writing heroic new chapters around the globe. Thus, it is a source of boundless pride and humility to know that an aircraft carrier bearing my name may be forever connected with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States Navy." President Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States of America
"God has been good to America, especially during difficult times.
At the time of the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln.
And at the time of Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford –
the right man at the right time who was able to put the Nation back together."
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives -Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill
Born in 1913, Gerald R. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His integrity and resolute character were manifested early. Ever the Eagle Scout – literally and metaphorically – he was the only U.S. president to achieve the Boy Scouts’ highest rank. He attended the University of Michigan and was a star football player for the Wolverines, including on two national championship teams. Following his graduation from Michigan, Ford attended Yale Law School, earning an LL.B. degree in 1941.
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ford enlisted for service in the Navy. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL 26) and served in the South Pacific, where he took part in the battles for Truk, Saipan, Guam, Formosa, Marianas, and the Philippines. As Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recalled: “In 1944, the USS Monterey was one of several ships in the Third Fleet hit hard by a violent typhoon in the Pacific that took out 3 destroyers and 150 aircraft. A team worked seven punishing hours in 100-knot winds to keep the Monterey afloat. At the head of the fire brigade was an unassuming attorney who had volunteered for the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor – Lieutenant Commander Gerald Ford.” USS Gerald R. Ford’s first Commanding Officer, Captain John Meier, reflected further: “Honor, courage, and commitment; these are the Navy’s core values – values that President Ford exhibited throughout his life – long before the Navy thought to codify them. President Ford displayed courage under fire in the South Pacific during World War II and, quite literally, on fire leading the damage control party that saved USS Monterey which was badly damaged and on fire in the middle of a typhoon in the South Pacific. His courage helped save the Monterey that day. And throughout his life, Gerald R. Ford exhibited an even higher level of courage - a moral courage.”
Lieutenant Commander Ford was honorably released from active duty in 1946 and returned home to Grand Rapids, where in 1948, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As a congressman for twenty five years, he developed a reputation for integrity and as a consensus builder with both Republican and Democratic colleagues, eventually being chosen as House Minority Leader.
In 1973, after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, President Richard Nixon chose Gerald Ford to be Vice President. Then, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned the presidency, and Gerald R. Ford became the 38th President of the United States. His first remarks to the American people were promises he faithfully kept: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. With all the strength and all of the good sense I have gained from life, …I now solemnly reaffirm to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for America.God helping me, I will not let you down. ”It was a time of false words and ill will. There was great malice, and great hurt, and a taste for more. And it all began to pass away on a Friday in August, when Gerald Ford laid his hand on the Bible and swore to preserve protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Concluding that it was in the nation’s best interest, President Ford pardoned his predecessor – a decision met by widespread condemnation. History, however, has since judged the pardon differently – much differently. This historical re-examination culminated in the May 2001 presentation of the Profile in Courage Award to President Ford by the John F. Kennedy Foundation. Senator Edward Kennedy explained in presenting the Award: “At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the Nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision--one that cost him his office--and he pardoned Richard Nixon. I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events; now we see that President Ford was right. His integrity and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us.''
Throughout the 895 days of his presidency, Gerald Ford championed policies and legislation that brought about remarkable changes, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), automated teller machines (ATMs), Title IX regulations for women's high school and college athletics, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Notably, he was the first President to appoint women to the United States Naval Academy.
In April, 1975, President Ford spoke at the Commissioning of the new aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and new Nimitz Class. Nearly forty years later, his words that day have special meaning for USS Gerald R. Ford and the Ford Class – the Navy’s newest carrier and carrier class: “I see this great ship as a double symbol of today’s challenging times. She is a symbol of the United States, of our immense resources in materials and skilled manpower, of our inexhaustible energy, of the inventive and productive genius of our free, competitive economic system, and of our massive but controlled military strength. Wherever she shows her flag, she will be seen as we see her now, a solid symbol of United States strength, United States resolve—made in America and manned by Americans. She is a movable part and parcel of our country, a self-contained city at sea plying the international waters of the world in defense of our national interests. Whether her mission is one of defense, diplomacy, or humanity, she will command awe and admiration from some, caution and circumspection from others, and respect from all.”
More than his many achievements and initiatives in foreign and domestic policy, the presidency of Gerald Ford is defined by his personal integrity. As Vice President Dick Cheney observed, President Ford “restored trust and confidence in the Presidency and the White House simply by the sheer force of his integrity. ”Thus, by the time of the Nation’s Bicentennial, the American people had a renewed pride in the Presidency, the Nation, and themselves.
Historian Jon Meacham later summarized President Ford’s service to America: “No other American President, in our long history has more closely resembled the ideal of Cincinnatus, the leader summoned from his plow to restore the nation in a time of crisis, than Gerald Ford. Like Cincinnatus, he did not seek, but did accept, ultimate responsibility in an hour of maximum danger. And like Cincinnatus, he left his nation a better place than he had found it. Henry Adams once said that ‘a President, like the commander of a ship at sea, must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, and a port to seek. ’Gerald Ford had all of those. He wanted to take us to a place of healing after years of tumult, and he finished the race. The wonderful thing about that journey is that President Ford never changed; the rest of us did. He bent history to his purposes. That’s the ultimate measure of a great leader.”
In the twilight of his life, President Ford learned that Navy Secretary Donald Winter intended to name USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Upon learning the news, President Ford poignantly expressed in a letter his feelings about Secretary Winter’s decision. And, as fate would soon reveal, his letter had special significance; President Ford died the following month. He wrote, “In my life, I’ve received countless honors. But none was greater than to wear the uniform of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. On an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II, I learned to respect and to rely on my comrades as if my life depended on them – because it often did. As a World War II veteran, I yield to no one in my admiration for the heroes of Omaha Beach and the heroes of Iwo Jima. But, at the same time, I take enormous inspiration from their grandsons and granddaughters who are writing heroic new chapters around the globe. Thus, it is a source of boundless pride and humility to know that an aircraft carrier bearing my name may be forever connected with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States Navy.” President Ford died on December 26, 2006. On January 16, 2007, at a Pentagon ceremony, Secretary Winter officially named USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Vice President Cheney subsequently spoke on behalf of a grateful nation regarding Secretary Winter’s decision: “It’s not every day you see the world’s greatest ship receive the finest of names.”
Today, Captain John Meier and the crew of USS Gerald R. Ford embody the legacy of their namesake through the motto they’ve adopted for their ship – “Integrity At The Helm”. They are shining examples of the remarkable legacy of the man from Grand Rapids and the integrity with which he lived his life in service to America.