Remembering Gerald Ford -
Before And Beyond Watergate...
Like I said in my last rant, I'm in the middle of doing a couple of things that I'll reveal to the world after January 1st. Wouldn't you know it... I got this other interruption, the death of a former American President. I can't let that go with out hammering out a few words, can I?
The death of an American President or any other public figure makes for great television. Why? Pure nostalgia, of course. Because when a public figure dies it's an opportunity to take a look back at who we were during that person's height of popularity or power. Who we had in any particular office represents or embodies who we were as a nation or a culture at that very moment. The death of Frank Sinatra was an opportunity to look back at the times he lived in, how he effected music and Pop Culture during The Golden Era.
That also holds true for when Princess Diana died, even though it was a look back at the brief time we just lived through. Mickey Mantel died - it was a look back at The Golden Age of baseball. Often times, popular characters or politicians are the symbols of their time.
John F. Kennedy was the symbol of the hope and optimism of the early 1960's. Lyndon Johnson was the symbol of America's pluralism - our remaining hope for the future after the death of Jack Kennedy, and our despair as some of our greatest nightmares began to come true as Viet Nam became a quagmire and the Civil Rights struggle and the ear-marks of a second Civil War. Nixon was the symbol of our countries cynicism.
But who was Gerald Ford, how did he represent the times we lived in?
When Gerald Ford died, his name was still attached to Nixon. In the first paragraph - and even in some instances it was the first sentence - the word "Watergate" was mentioned in all of former President Ford's obituaries. Should Watergate define Mr. Ford's life? Wasn't there more to him?
During the Watergate scandal Richard Nixon caused some of the greatest crimes against the Constitution of The United States and violated the sacred trust of the American people in an effort to get an edge against his political rival . In an effort to put the Watergate scandal behind the American people and lay to rest the controversy, President Ford pardoned former President Nixon and in turn ruined his own political future and legacy. Nothing else about this man seemed to matter. The death of Gerald Ford was nothing more then another opportunity to discuss Watergate by the media and even re-examine the controversy through a different perspective, focus on a lesser known or least discussed aspect of this American tragedy.
Does Gerald Ford and his Presidency represent the end of Watergate? Did his time in office come to symbolize a time of transition in The United States? That's something for the historians to decide. But what's already clear is that more people are now looking back at the brief years Gerald Ford was in office then I ever thought possible.
More of us need to give him a fair shake and look at the life of a man who didn't just define the end of Watergate and the Mid-1970's.
Gerald Ford. This man existed and had a full life before Watergate. What's being forgotten and lost in all of this is that Gerald Ford served his country before in different capacities. He was a Naval Officer during World War II... here's an excerpt of his biography...
Applying for sea duty, Ford was sent in May 1943 to the pre-commissioning detachment for the new aircraft carrier USS Monterey, at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. From the ship's commissioning on June 17, 1943 until the end of December 1944, Ford served as the assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer on board the Monterey. While he was on board, the carrier participated in many actions in the Pacific Theater with the Third and Fifth Fleets during the fall of 1943 and in 1944. In 1943, the carrier helped secure Makin Island in the Gilberts, and participated in carrier strikes against Kavieng, New Ireland in 1943. During the spring of 1944, the Monterey supported landings at Kwajalein and Eniwetok and participated in carrier strikes in the Marianas, Western Carolinas, and northern New Guinea, as well as in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After overhaul, from September to November 1944, aircraft from the Monterey launched strikes against Wake Island, participated in strikes in the Philippines and Ryukyus, and supported the landings at Leyte and Mindoro.
Although the ship was not damaged by Japanese forces, the Monterey was one of several ships damaged by the typhoon that hit Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet on December 18-19, 1944. The Third Fleet lost three destroyers and over 800 men during the typhoon. The Monterey was damaged by a fire, which was started by several of the ship's aircraft tearing loose from their cables and colliding during the storm. During the storm, Ford narrowly avoided becoming a casualty himself. After he left his battle station on the bridge of the ship in the early morning of December 18, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees, which caused Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck. The two-inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him enough so he could roll, and he twisted into the catwalk below the deck. As he later stated, "I was lucky; I could have easily gone overboard."
That's a little more then just Watergate. That's a little more then the list of accomplishments during his few years as President. There was a lot more to this man then what the news has rehashed during the last few days. He was a member of The Greatest Generation. The death of Gerald Ford should be a reminder of those who fought and served to end the greatest evil this world has ever known, and when they were done they went on to achieve other things when they returned home.
Gerald Ford's life shouldn't be defined by one single event, by just one signature on an executive order or a pardon. When remembering Gerald Ford, he should be remembered as a whole person, a complex yet kind and generous man with a vast personal history, achievements and views. As he's memorialized and remembered over the next few days and then for years to come when his name is brought up into conversations with-in the media, don't let the talking heads or the pontificators make you believe that Gerald Ford is only an asterix or an epilog to the greatest scandal of the 1970's.
That's also a lesson for all of us, too: none of our lives are defined by one event. We've all made decisions that have changed or altered our lives forever, we've made mistakes that have caused people to change how people view us. But as some people have proven in the past, you can get through those events and turn them around for the better, take a bad thing and turn it around for something good. Our lives aren't defined by the choices or mistakes that we made, we're defined by how we handle those situations and how we learn from them to become better people. It's called character. It's something the Greatest Generation had, and it's something we need to bring back into the main stream.
As an aside with a piece of trivia and not to negate what I've just concluded - Both Harry S. Truman and Gerald Ford lived in the shadows of the legacies of their predecessors, and both died on the same date: Harry Truman died on December 26, 1972 - Gerald Ford died on December 26, 2006...
Your thoughts on President Ford?