Locals see new USS Gerald R. Ford mega aircraft carrier take to the sea | VailDaily.com

Locals see new USS Gerald R. Ford mega aircraft carrier take to the sea

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The life of Gerald R. Ford's unshakable integrity circled around for Americans with the new ship that bears his name, the mega aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

When he learned the ship was to be named for him, Jerry Ford was "astounded," said Susan Ford Bales, one of Jerry and Betty's four children.

It's an extension of the way her father lived his life: "Honor your country and have integrity," Ford Bales said.

Lives are sometimes circular

“For in America, the best has never been

— it is always yet to be.”President Gerald R. Ford 38th President of the United States

Ford not only served on an aircraft carrier in World War II, as president he commissioned the carrier that the USS Gerald R. Ford will replace.

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Ford studied political science at the University of Michigan. He was an All American lineman and the Michigan Wolverines football team's Most Valuable Player. He passed on offers to play professional football, and instead earned his law degree from Yale in 1941. The law would wait. World War II was calling, and he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He served on the aircraft carrier USS Monterrey and spent the war in the South Pacific, seeing lots and lots of action.

He served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he earned a reputation for unbending integrity. He and Betty were headed back to Michigan, but duty called again when Richard Nixon tabbed him as vice president. When Nixon resigned, Ford became America's 38th president.

In 1975, he commissioned the USS Nimitz, the first carrier of the Nimitz Class.

The Nimitz is retiring. The technological marvel named for Ford will replace it and launch the Ford Class.

"Dad felt that was one of the highest honors he ever received was to wear the uniform of the United States Navy," Ford Bales told the crowd during the commissioning.

Ford's Class

For each new vessel, the Secretary of the Navy chooses a woman sponsor with some connection to the ship being built. This one was Susan Ford Bales.

"Susan has redefined the term. She has visited the ship 13 times. She welded. She laid steel. She helped lay the keel," said Father Brooks Keith, a local Episcopalian pastor who attended the commissioning.

Ford Bales raised money for improvements to the chapel and mess hall that were not in the Navy's budget.

"People cared enough to give our sailors those amenities," Keith said.

The next Ford Class carrier built will be the USS John F. Kennedy. The Secretary of the Navy asked Caroline Kennedy to sponsor that ship.

Episcopalian connection

President Ford and Mrs. Ford were Episcopalian, worshiping in Grand Rapids, Palm Desert, California, and Vail.

Ford Bales invited Keith and Deacon Steve Baird to the commissioning. Baird is a University of Michigan alumnus and Navy veteran, serving as an officer on the USS Nathanael Greene, a James Madison-class fleet ballistic missile submarine.

"I was very honored to represent the Vail Valley and represent the church," Keith said.

At the end of the commissioning ceremony, an officer advised people to stay on the prescribed course where Navy personnel were stationed to answer their questions. During their tour, Baird walked confidently through the USS Gerald R. Ford, as only a veteran can, opening doors and asking for pardon instead of permission. Keith and Baird were in clerical collars, and that helped open some doors. Steve opened the rest.

"Steve opened doors and we took our own walkabout," Keith said.

Baird talked to the ship's head chef, and Keith had his first cup of Navy coffee and learned that the USS Gerald R. Ford has four chaplains.

"As impressive as all the tech was, all the sailors and officers we met are the finest part of the ship. They were among the finest people I've met," Keith said. "It's a touching and fitting tribute to the Ford legacy."

'Bring her to life'

Capt. Richard McCormack, the Ford's commanding officer, circled back to Ford's speech when commissioning the Nimitz.

"As each of us looks upon this great ship, a single thought must seize our minds. Only the United States of America can make a machine like this. There is nothing like her in the world today. We have witnessed a magic moment when an intricate mass of steel and cable, sophisticated engineering marvels, suddenly become a living thing with a unique personality," Ford said at the commissioning of the USS Nimitz.

"The Nimitz was the first in its class of ships. The Gerald R. Ford is the first in the Ford class of ships," McCormack said. "There is no one who would be prouder of the commissioning of this mighty ship than Gerald R. Ford."

"Thus it is a source of indescribable pride and humility, knowing an aircraft carrier bearing my name be permanently associated with the valor and integrity of the men and women of the United States Navy," Ford wrote about the ship that will bear his name.

As the 120-minute commissioning ceremony wound down, Ford Bales gave the command, "Officers and Crew, man our ship and bring her to life."

With that, sailors ran up the gangplank and took their places around the flight deck.

"I've never been more proud to be an American in my life," Keith said. "It was a special moment in time."

When the commissioning ceremony was done, Chaplain Steven Barstow led the benediction, asking for God's protection and encouragement and that "integrity be the compass that we follow."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

About the ship

• USS Gerald R. Ford is the first of a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

• The Navy plans to spend $43 billion developing and building the three new Ford-class ships: The Ford, the future USS John F. Kennedy and the future USS Enterprise.

• Compared to the Nimitz-class carriers it replaces, the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers have more than 23 new or modified systems, they generate 250 percent more electrical power and they carry two next-generation nuclear reactors and 500 fewer crew members.

Source: U.S. Navy

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