Gerald Ford: President and Veteran

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s post comes to you from Sanjana Barr of the National Archives History Office.

Gerald R. Ford Administration White House Press Releases

Press Release Statement regarding Veterans Day, September 20, 1975. (Gerald Ford Presidential Library, National Archives).

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation returning the official date for celebrating Veterans Day to November 11.

For the previous four years, Veterans Day had been observed on the fourth Monday in October due to the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act. That act mandated observance of four national holidays (George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) on Mondays to create more three-day weekends.

The law led to confusion about Veterans Day, with it being celebrated in October in some places and on November 11 in others.

President’s Ford’s action was also important for symbolic reasons. After World War I, November 11 was recognized as Armistice Day in many of the Allied nations and continues to be a way to honor fallen soldiers. Unlike most Armistice Day celebrations,  our observance of the holiday honors all American veterans, living and dead.

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Gerald R. Ford, Jr. in His United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Uniform, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 187001)

President Ford was himself a military man, joining the Navy after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He served on the USS Monterey as an assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer.

Twenty-six Presidents of the United States have served in the military, and Ford was the fourth President who served in the Navy.

Ford was discharged from active service in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander and left the Naval Reserve in 1963.

For his service he received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-American Campaign Medal with one silver star and four bronze stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two bronze stars.

Throughout his Presidency, Ford expressed his support of the United States Armed Forces. As a member of civic organizations like the American Legion, AMVETS, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, he advocated for his fellow veterans.

As a public figure, he often spoke at conferences for these organizations. At a meeting for Veterans of Foreign Wars he said, “I want good relations with all veterans. . . . I salute the men of many campaigns—of World War I,World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.”

As the first President to visit the USS Arizona Memorial on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, he delivered a moving speech to his fellow veterans. Referencing his own service, he said:

“Whoever watched the Pacific churned by winds of wars comes to this hallowed place with  feelings overcoming words. Our shipmates who rest in honor here, our comrades in arms who sleep beneath the waves and on the islands that surround us need no eulogy beyond the eternal gratitude of the land that they loved.”

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Gerald R. Ford at a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial in honor of those Americans killed on December 7, 1941, in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 12/7/1975. (National Archives Identifier 6829576)

While the National Archives in the Washington, DC, area has some photographic and textual records concerning Ford, most of his materials are in his Presidential library and museum in Michigan.

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Gerald R. Ford’s Notice of Separation from the U.S. Naval Service, 2/23/1946. (National Archives Identifier 16625236)

His library is somewhat of an anomaly, as the Presidential library and the Presidential museum occupy two different sites.

While Ford was a congressman, he agreed to leave his congressional papers to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When he assumed the Presidency, the university and President Ford’s hometown in Grand Rapids compromised on their claims to his materials.

The Ford Library was constructed on the University of Michigan campus and the Ford Museum was built along the bank of the Grand River in Grand Rapids.

Today, the museum and library are run as one unit, under one director, as an extension of the National Archives.

Though Gerald Ford’s career as President was relatively short, he used his time in office to raise awareness for American veterans and honor their service.

Interested in military records at the National Archives? Read “Veterans’ Military Records—We’ve Got Them” for more information.  

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