WASHINGTON – The Navy said Tuesday its next aircraft carrier will be named the USS Gerald R. Ford in honor of the late president, a tribute to his love of the Navy.
Ford, who served in the Navy during World War II, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 93. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had said the Navy was planning the honor during a eulogy at Ford's funeral.
"President Ford will always be an example to us of personal kindness, loyalty and coolness under pressure," said Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Ford's chief of staff, during a Pentagon ceremony.
Susan Bales Ford said her father had mentioned the impending honor in a letter to a friend shortly before his death. He wrote, "In my life, I have received countless honors, but none was greater than the opportunity to wear the uniform of lieutenant commander of the United States Navy."
The former president wrote it was a "a source of indescribable pride and humility to know that an aircraft carrier bearing my name may be permanently associated with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States Navy."
Betty Ford did not attend the ceremony but planned to watch it on a Pentagon broadcast, said Bales Ford, who was joined by her three brothers. She said the family was grateful to the U.S. service branches for accompanying them during the services honoring their father.
"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that would have made Dad prouder," she said.
Several lawmakers said Ford had an intimate knowledge of aircraft carriers — and even helped save one in the Pacific.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., noted that during Ford's combat service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, he led a crew that battled a fire sparked by planes shaken loose in a December 1944 typhoon.
"Thirty years before President Ford would right our ship of state, Lt. Ford helped save the Monterey and its men," Levin said.
The 1,092-foot long aircraft carrier, with capacity for a crew of 4,660, is the first in a new line of carriers and is expected to be commissioned in seven to eight years, officials said.