We have been to several Presidential homes and gravesites, and even to President Truman’s Little White House in Key West, Florida. But we especially liked the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I think we found this one so 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.
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 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, his wartime service as an officer on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, his political career, and his 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.
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.
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 semiautomatic pistol that Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to assassinate President Ford with on September 5, 1975.
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.
After spending 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. It was refreshing to learn more about a man who had the integrity to take unpopular stands to do what he was believed was right.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is located at 303 Pearl Street NW, in Grand Rapids, and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. The parking lot at the museum is really not suited for large RVs, but there are many RV parks in the area where you can stay and make a day trip to the museum. For more information, call (616) 254-0400.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – As I get older I sometimes wonder, if I get senile, how will anybody know the difference?