Sunday, July 14 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States. This was an important historical milestone for the country because of President Ford’s exceptional legacy of service, but also an important historical milestone for the Navy as we fittingly get ready to christen and launch the first of our next generation of aircraft carriers, the Gerald R. Ford class with the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).
Former President Ford was born in 1913, around the time of Eugene Ely’s pioneering flights aboard USS Birmingham and USS Pennsylvania. It was also the same year USS Jupiter was commissioned, the ship that was converted into USS Langley (CV 1), the first U.S. aircraft carrier.
As a young man, Gerald R. Ford recognized his call to patriotic service and joined the Navy. He served aboard USS Monterey (CVL 26) from her construction to her involvement in the South Pacific in WWII. He was the first President to have served aboard an aircraft carrier, and witnessed their tremendous fighting power at the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. USS Monterey was one of nine aircraft carriers based off the Cleveland class light cruiser design to reduce development costs and speed construction. Similarly, Ford class carriers use the hull form of the Nimitz class, while being completely redesigned internally, reducing development time and cost.
During his presidency, Gerald R. Ford witnessed the value of aircraft carriers during a crisis response when he ordered USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and USS Coral Sea (CV 43) to provide air cover for the evacuation of South Vietnam. He was the principal speaker at the commissioning of USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in 1975, and the keel was laid for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during his administration.
Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the late president invited me to participate in President Ford’s 100th birthday commemoration in Grand Rapids, Mich., and on behalf of the Navy I was honored to participate. I took part in a wreath laying at President and Mrs. Ford’s tomb. I also attended the grand opening of a CVN 78 exhibit at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, accompanied by the president of Newport News Shipbuilding, Matt Mulherin, the prospective commanding officer of CVN 78, Capt. “Oscar” Meier, and Mrs. Ford Bales to unveil a model of CVN 78 to be displayed at the museum.
Naming our nation’s newest aircraft carrier after President Ford honors his lifetime of service. CVN 78 will embody the operational lessons learned from almost 100 years of aircraft carrier operations, and will carry them forward another 100 years. When the projected 10th and final Ford class aircraft carrier is retired in 2110, our nation will commemorate almost 100 years of service from President Ford’s namesake aircraft carrier class. We are honored to have his daughter, Mrs. Susan Ford Bales as sponsor of CVN 78 and have the opportunity to remember this great man and his legacy.