Aug 082011

When we woke up yesterday, the sky was looking pretty nasty, and the weather report said there was a good chance of thunderstorms. We decided that it would not be a good day to be kayaking. Rocky suggested that we visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in nearby Grand Rapids, and that sounded like a great way to spend a Sunday, so off we went to check it out.

We have been to several Presidential homes and gravesites, and even to President Truman’s Little White House in Key West, Florida. But we found this one especially interesting, because President Ford took office when we were young adults, and we remembered (and lived through) many of the events covered at the museum.

Ford Museum outside

Ford statue

Raised in Grand Rapids, Gerald R. Ford was well known and loved by his constituents, who elected him to the House of Representatives for twenty-five years, from 1949 to 1973. During the fall of the Nixon White House, Ford was a chosen to succeed Spiro Agnew, who resigned his role as Vice President in December, 1973. When President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, Gerald R. Ford became President, giving him the distinction of being the only person to assume the vice-presidency and the presidency without having been elected to either office.

Though not elected by the people, Ford knew he had a responsibility to unite the nation, which was reeling from the Watergate scandal, and deeply divided by our involvement in the long and unpopular war in Vietnam. By the time he left office, upon the inauguration of Jimmy Carter in 1977, he had made great strides to accomplish his mission.

The Grand Rapids museum has displays on Ford’s childhood, wartime service as an officer on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, his political career, and presidency.

Exhibits include a re-creation of the Oval Office as it was during Ford’s time, with many items that decorated the office during his presidency.

Oval office

A display on Ford’s role in ending the Vietnam War includes the front half of a Huey helicopter, and the actual steps from the American Embassy in Saigon, which hundreds of American military personnel and South Vietnamese climbed to be airlifted off the roof during the fall of Saigon. I still vividly remember scenes of crews pushing helicopters off the decks of ships to make room for more people, and pilots deliberately crashing their choppers into the sea near ships to escape the advancing communist troops.

Embassy steps

Many of the decisions President Ford made were controversial, including his pardoning of Richard M. Nixon, as well as his decision to allow those who fled the country to avoid the draft to return home. One exhibit includes medals that Vietnam veterans sent to the president in protest of his decisions. But he truly believed these actions were needed to unify the nation, and looking back from the perspective of over 35 years, I think at least some of us who disagreed with him at that time have mellowed.

One grim reminder of just how dangerous the president’s job can be is the Colt. 45 semi-automatic pistol that Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to assassinate President Ford with, on September 5, 1975.

Squeaky pistol

Gerald R. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at his retirement home in Rancho Mirage, California. His wife, Betty Ford, died on July 8, 2011. The Fords, who were dedicated to each other throughout their married lives, are buried on the grounds of the museum in Grand Rapids.

Ford graves

I’m glad we spent the day at the museum. I came away with a better understanding of President Ford, and a lot of respect for his integrity and his long service to our nation. I couldn’t help but feel that maybe we need another man like him to reunite our country today.

Thought For The Day – Concern yourself with not what is right and what is wrong, but with what is important.

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Nick Russell

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  7 Responses to “Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum”

  1. I wonder if part of his ability to make decisions on what was best for America might have been helped by NOT being elected nationally. He had far fewer “wealthy” national investors/corporations/lobbists that he owed for his election. He was not concentrating on what his “base” wanted in order to keep them “happy” and he was willing to not be electable as it turned out, in order to do what he thought needed to be done.

  2. I was away visiting grandkids a couple of days, but wanted to pass along belated congrats on your wife’s positive medical report.

    We also like to visit presidential museums, but have never been to Ford’s. Thanks for the vicarious visit.

    One of the most interesting museums we have visited is Herbert Hoover’s, in Iowa. Our historical image of Hoover is the evil villain who caused the great depression, but the museum shows all his good works, so presents an interesting alternative view.

    Enjoy the day, and travel safe.

  3. Presidential Museums are good places to visit. Lots of valuable information there. As to Gerald Ford as President; he was able to get the issue of Nixon’s criminal activity off the front page, but didnt fix the situation. It is my strong belief that had he required Nixon to either plead guilty to some of the charges against him, or face an impeachment trial, we would have never had to deal with fiasco of President Clinton’s impeachment. By being allowed to resign, then pardoned for unnamed crimes, without admitting any criminal wrong doing, led the Republicans in the US House to believe that all they had to do was threaten to impeach Clinton, and he would resign. When he called their bluff, they had no choice to go forward with the impeachment, even though they new it would fail. Another negative point to the Nixon pardon was that it allowed the Clinton haters to say that what he did was worse than what Nixon did, because Clinton was impeached, and Nixon never was!

    As far as bringing the country together, Obama has tried to do so, but the difference between today and 1974 is at that time the country wanted to be united, that is not the case today.

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more Nick. Despite feeling that some of our former presidents blundered, and they did because they’re human, wouldn’t it be wonderful having some of that leadership, ethics, and patriotism back in Washington? I think so.

  5. My brother was President Ford’s golf caddy for a few years in Vail, Colorado. He said the President was always as gracious, intelligent and honorable in private as he was in front of a TV camera. He also raved about how kind and thoughtful Betty and the Ford children were.

    Wonder if we could appoint one of the Ford kids to be President in 2012 and save us all from the 3-ring media circus over the next year!

  6. I love visiting presidential museums. I too was really surprised with the Herbert Hoover Museum which was an eye openner about his administration and his role in the upcoming depression. I also had an “ah ha” moment when visiting President Regan’s museum a couple years ago. We live our daily lives while viewing national and world events through various media. We have our opinions with each of us being effected differently by those events. I was astonished by all the critical events that happened in those eight years of his presidency. As with you Nick, years later upon review, I have changed many of my strong views of those times. My bucket list now contains all the presidential libraries with the exception of John Kennedy’s. I cannot think of him without tearing up remembering what we had and could have become had he not been murdered.

  7. I love this museum. Ever since Gadafi slipped, fell and hit his head on the chunk of the Berlin Wall you got there, I think it’s even cooler.

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