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The Navy Career of Gerald Ford
Military.com  |  By Naval Historical Center  |  December 29, 2006
When he entered the White House in 1974, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. became the fourth consecutive President to have served in the U.S. Navy. Accepted into Yale Law School in 1938, Ford received his law degree in 1941. Returning to Grand Rapids, Ford started a law practice with a fellow classmate from the University of Michigan. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor changed his plans.

Instead of waiting for the draft, Ford wanted to join the Navy. His background as a coach and trainer made him a good candidate for instructor in the Navy's V-5 (aviation cadet) program. Ford received a commission as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 13 April 1942. On 20 April, he reported for active duty to the V-5 instructor school at Annapolis, Maryland. After one month of training, he went to Navy Preflight School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was one of 83 instructors and taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid, and military drill. In addition, he coached in all nine sports that were offered, but mostly in swimming, boxing and football. During the one year he was at the Preflight School, he was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on 2 June 1942, and to Lieutenant on March 1943.

Applying for sea duty, Ford was sent in May 1943 to the pre-commissioning detachment for a new light aircraft carrier, USS Monterey (CVL-26) at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. From the ship's commissioning on 17 June 1943 until the end of December 1944, Ford served as the assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer on board Monterey. While he was on board, Monterey participated in many actions in the Pacific with the Third and Fifth Fleets during the fall of 1943 and in 1944. In 1943, the carrier helped secure Makin Island in the Gilberts, and participated in carrier strikes against Kavieng, New Ireland in 1943. During the spring of 1944, Monterey supported landings at Kwajalein and Eniwetok and participlated in carrier strikes in the Marianas, Western Carolines, and northern New Guinea, as well as in the Battle of Philippine Sea. After overhaul, from September to November 1944, aircraft from Monterey launched strikes against Wake Island, participated in strikes in the Philippines and Ryukus, and supported the landings at Leyte and Mindoro.

Although the ship was not damaged by the Japanese forces, Monterey was one of several ships damaged by the typhoon, which hit Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet on 18-19 December 1944. The Third Fleet lost three destroyers and over 800 men during the typhoon. Monterey was damaged by a fire which was started by several of the ship's aircraft tearing loose from their cables and colliding during the storm. During the storm, Ford narrowly missed being a casualty himself. After Ford left his battle station on the bridge of the ship in the early morning of 18 December, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees which caused Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck. The two inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him enough so he could roll and twisted into the catwalk below the deck. As he later stated, "I was lucky; I could have easily gone overboard."

After the fire, Monterey was declared unfit for service and the crippled carrier reached Ulithi on 21 December before proceeding across the Pacific to Bremerton, Washington where it underwent repairs. On Christmas Eve 1944 at Ulithi, Ford was detached from the ship and sent to the Athletic Department of the Navy Pre-Flight School, St. Mary's College, California where he was assigned to the Athletic Department until April 1945. One of his duties was to coach football. From end of April 1945 to January 1946, he was on the staff of the Naval Reserve Training Command, Naval Air Station, Glenview, Illinois as the Staff Physical and Military Training Officer. On 3 October 1945, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. In January 1946, he was sent to the Separation Center, Great Lakes, Illinois to be processed out. He was released from active duty under honorable conditions on 23 February 1946. On 28 June 1963, the Secretary of the Navy accepted Ford's resignation from the Naval Reserve.

For his naval service, Gerald Ford earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with nine engagement stars for operations in the Gilbert Islands, Bismark Archipelego, Marshal Islands, Asiatic and Pacific carrier raids, Hollandia, Marianas, Western Carolines, Western New Guinea, and the Leyte Operation. He also received the Philippine Liberation with two bronze stars for Leyte and Mindoro, as well as the American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals.

Read about Gerald Ford's heroism aboard the U.S.S. Monterey

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