Born in 1913, Gerald R. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, showing his character early on by earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the Boy Scout’s highest rank. He attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he became a star football player for the Wolverines with opportunities to pursue professional football. Instead, he chose the legal profession and went to Yale Law School, earning an LL.B. degree in 1941.
The call to war came shortly after. Along with hundreds of thousands in his generation, Ford enlisted for service, joining the U.S. Naval Reserve. Assigned to the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL 26) in 1943, he went to the South Pacific theater of war, where he took part in the battles for Truk, Saipan, Guam, Formosa, Marianas, and the Philippines. Ford was almost swept overboard during a storm which also resulted in a fire that led to the ship begin taken out of service. Having reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander, Ford was honorably released from active duty in 1946.
House of Representatives
After World War II, Ford returned home to Grand Rapids, where he became a partner in a law firm. In 1948, he ran for Congressional office, winning with 61 percent of the vote and beginning the first of 13 terms in the House of Representatives. During his run for office, Ford married Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren, with whom he would have four children. As a congressman, he developed a reputation for integrity, able to deal with both Republicans and Democrats, and he eventually became the House minority leader.
President of the United States
In 1973, after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, President Richard Nixon chose Gerald R. Ford to be Vice President. Due to the Watergate scandal, President Nixon became the first person to resign the presidency, making Gerald R. Ford President of the United States just nine months after being sworn in as Vice President. The new President faced a nation disillusioned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and an economic recession.
Convinced that it was in the nation’s best interest, President Ford granted amnesty to Vietnam draft-evaders and pardoned his predecessor, a decision met by widespread disapproval. History has judged differently. His decision has since been recognized as a great act of courageous leadership, leading the country forward at the expense of his own future political career. The words of his first Presidential address were promises he was faithful to keep:
“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. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy. As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate. With all the strength and all of the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence of my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, 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.”
Ford in 1933 at the University of Michigan.
Lieutenant Commander Ford (front row, second from right) in 1943 with other gunnery officers on the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey.
A billboard in Michigan for Ford's first congressional campaign in 1948.
President Ford in 1975 at his desk in the Oval Office.