Most of us remember President Gerald Ford for his pardoning of Nixon and the famous quote, “My fellow Americans, the long, national nightmare is over.” But did you know that he was a WWII War Hero?
Ford was a modest guy and like most of the heroes of the Greatest Generation, he didn’t talk much about his heroics aboard the USS Monterey during one of the worst naval catastrophes in military history.
But today, I had the opportunity to interview author Bob Drury whose new book Halsey’s Typhoon details the incredible actions of Lt. Gerald Ford in December 1944.
In short, Adm. William “Bull” Halsey was in charge of the Pacific Fleet and had been given news that a terrible typhoon was looming on the horizon. And true to his nickname, Halsey chose to turn the 170-ship fleet directly into the storm to maintain their position. Many ships were lost and hundreds of men perished. But the story of Lt. Ford that Drury recounted to me paints a picture of the kind of leader that would become the President of the United States.
Lt. Ford was the Watch Officer aboard the USS Monterey the day the typhoon struck and had just gone off duty when the giant waves (70+ feet) started to take a toll on the ship. Realizing what was happening, Ford immediately began his way back towards the pilothouse as the engines went out, planes began to break loose, 3 of the 4 boilers died and a horrific fire broke out down below. Ford was hit with a crashing wave and was swept, as Drury said from his interview with President Ford in 2004, “like a toboggan across the deck and I was scared as hell.”
Thanks to Ford’s athletic ability (he was an all-American football player who passed up a Pro-Football career to join the Navy), he was able to catch the guard railing and pull himself from going overboard eventually making it back to the pilothouse. It was here that the Monterey’s Captain turned to the 32 year-old lieutenant junior grade and said, “We’re not going to live if we abandon ship (the order had been given from Halsey)… Now get down there and put out that damn fire.”
So Ford led a fire team below in a last ditch effort to save the remaining sailors aboard and as Drury told me, “basically saving the USS Monterey single-handedly.”
Perhaps we can look back today and see that the man who history will remember as having “healed the wounds of Watergate” and ended the war in Vietnam was simply an American who understood his obligation to come to the rescue of his fellow countrymen in the most challenging of times.
I can be reached for questions or comments at Griffsnotes@foxnews.com.