A stairway leads inside to a large photo of the 38th President of the United States of America proudly standing at a podium. Down the hall to the entry door, the presidential seal welcomes visitors. Through the door is a rounded room, with walls covered with memorabilia. Along the left side, the first showcase, there is a Scout holding an American Flag and a Boy Scout troop just beside. An Eagle Scout emblem pops out in the display and captions tell important details about each item, along with other images of the early life of this Scout. Continuing around the room are sights of football, family and decorations of the Navy, all depicting the life of this Eagle Scout and things most important to him. This is the tribute room dedicated to Eagle Scout Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States of America, aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford Aircraft Carrier. Navy ships are named for historical battles, heroic Sailors and marines or famous Americans. On aircraft carriers, it is common to have a place on the ship to recognize and honor the ship’s namesake, in what is called the tribute room.
The USS Gerald R. Ford is the newest aircraft carrier to join the fleet. Construction began in 2005 and was completed in 2017; she is scheduled for first deployment in 2019. Currently the Sailors are hard at work preparing for the trials of the open sea, and are ready to serve aboard the ship memorializing Ford who, among his many accomplishments, attained the rank of lieutenant commander during World War II while serving in the Navy. He was also a long-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Most notably he was Vice President and then President of the United States. All of this in addition to being an Eagle Scout. Today there are several crewmembers who share that distinction with the ship’s namesake: they too are Eagle Scouts.
Eagle Scout Carl Bodin is a Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow and an Eagle Scout from the class of 1996. Lieut. Cmdr. Bodin is the reactor controls assistant in the engineering department, and is inspired by President Ford. Bodin explains that “working on his namesake ship presents an outstanding opportunity to daily live up to his ideals.”
Lieut. Nicholas Quenga, XX division officer, says that “choosing [President Ford] as the ship’s namesake also demonstrates the desire for us that serve aboard her to live and fight with vigor, strength and endurance,” which he feels are “required among Eagle Scouts and Naval Officers.” Quenga is an Eagle Scout and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow in 2003.
Interior Communications Specialist First Class Marc Schoonmaker says, “Scouting has helped me be ready for whatever life throws at me and be prepared for anything. My knowledge will always keep me grounded and ready!” Also an Arrowman, Schoonmaker stresses how important it was to learn so much at an early age through Scouting that has led him to be able to relate with fellow Scouts aboard the ship, and to President Ford as a person.
Machinist’s Mate Fireman Charles Jacob Reese agrees. “As I walk on board this mighty vessel and look up at the ship, I am inspired to become a leader just as strongly as I was being an Eagle Scout and raise the bar for those who follow,” he explains. Reese was inspired to join the Navy when his Scout troop took a trip to the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.
Lieut. Robert W. Crawford is a physical therapist in the medical department. He feels a connection to the USS Ford because of the shared Scouting and Naval service. “We shared similar goals growing up and held ourselves to a higher standard. We pushed ourselves and our limits to better our individual abilities. We never settled for the status quo and always strived for the highest goals. We don’t have to wait to be president to be a great leader,” he says. “Leadership can start at a young age.”
President Ford may be considered the most successful Boy Scout to date, since he is the only Eagle Scout to serve as the President of the United States of America; he was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 1970 by the Grand Valley Council, in Michigan. Following his death in December of 2006, over four hundred Boy Scouts showed up at the memorial service. The following words from President Ford are found at the Ford Presidential Museum in his hometown of Grand Rapids:
“My early years as a Boy Scout were invaluable in helping to shape the course of my later life. Throughout my public service and extensive travels around the country, I have seen firsthand evidence of the immeasurable worth of the basic values taught by Scouting programs.
The Scout Oath to help other people, to keep physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight and to do one’s duty to God and to our country provides a solid base on which to build both individual and national strength.
The three great principles which Scouting encourages — self-discipline, teamwork and moral and patriotic values — are the building blocks of character. By working for these principles, those who belong to and support the Boy Scouts of America add greatly to the vitality of our society and to the future well-being of its people.”
Upon close examination of Scouting pictures, it may be asked, “Where’s the lodge flap? Was Gerald R. Ford a member of the Order of the Arrow?” During his time as a youth in Troop 15 beginning in 1924, the Order of the Arrow was not yet available in his area of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Perhaps if it was, there would be no doubt that Ford also would have shined in a lodge due to his similarities in character of brotherhood, cheerfulness and service. Either way, we are proud of the example Ford lived, and the duty he carried for our country.