WASHINGTON (AP) – In a lifetime of accolades, Gerald Ford was most honored by the chance to wear the Naval uniform. So it may be fitting that future service members will patrol the seas on a vessel bearing his name.

The Navy yesterday said its next aircraft carrier will be named the USS Gerald R. Ford in honor of the late president, a tribute to his love of the Navy.

Ford graduated from the University in 1935, where he played center on the football team and was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and Michigamua, the elite senior society.

He will be the only University alum to have an aircraft carrier named in his honor.

Ford, who served in the Navy during World War II, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 93. The naming decision was expected; former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Navy was planning the honor during a eulogy at Ford’s funeral.

“President Ford will always be an example to us of personal kindness, loyalty and coolness under pressure,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Ford’s chief of staff, during a Pentagon ceremony.

Susan Ford Bales said her father had mentioned the impending honor in a letter to a friend shortly before his death. He wrote, “In my life, I have received countless honors, but none was greater than the opportunity to wear the uniform of lieutenant commander of the United States Navy.”

The former president wrote it was a “a source of indescribable pride and humility to know that an aircraft carrier bearing my name may be permanently associated with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States Navy.”

Betty Ford did not attend the ceremony but planned to watch it on a Pentagon broadcast, said Ford Bales, who was joined by her three brothers. She said the family was grateful to the U.S. service branches for accompanying them during the services honoring their father.

“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that would have made Dad prouder,” she said.

Several lawmakers said Ford had an intimate knowledge of aircraft carriers – and even helped save one in the Pacific.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted that during Ford’s combat service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, he led a crew that battled a fire sparked by planes shaken loose in a December 1944 typhoon.

“Thirty years before President Ford would right our ship of state, Lt. Ford helped save the Monterey and its men,” Levin said.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who joined Levin in pushing for the carrier to bear Ford’s name, recalled Ford’s wise counsel as he was considering a career in politics. Warner served as Navy secretary while Ford was vice president.

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