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Gerald R. Ford Played Basketball With My Uncle Bill, On An Aircraft Carrier
Discussion Board on this Respect item
Everyone has their own memories of former president, but mine is a little
different. My uncle played basketball against Gerald Ford, in the elevator
well of an aircraft carrier during World War II. And I have the picture to
prove it. Naturally, there's an even more interesting story behind
My uncle, Bill Howell, joined the navy right after Pear Harbor
was attacked. In February, 1943, he reported to the Philadelphia Navy
Yard to join the crew of the new light carrier Monterey. He was the first
enlisted member of the crew to report to the ship. Yeoman Howell became a
Chief Petty Officer in January, 1944, at age 24.
The USS Monterey
(CVL-26) reached the fleet in Fall of 1943, and was heavily engaged, but was
damaged only in the December 1944 typhoon, when several aircraft on her
hanger deck broke loose, causing potentially disastrous fires, which were
put out with some difficulty. Future president Gerald R. Ford was later
decorated for his part in the damage control effort. Ford led a team of men
to the hanger deck, where they secured the aircraft, and other large objects
being tossed about.
Commissioned an ensign in the Navy in April 1942,
Ford served as a gunnery officer aboard the light carrier Monterey from 1943
to the end of the war, earning ten battle stars. He was discharged in
February 1946 as a lieutenant commander.
Ford and my uncle Bill knew
each other because CPO Howell worked for the executive officer (XO) of the
ship. That made CPO Howell one of the more important CPOs on the ship. For
example, he handled the paperwork for all personnel and disciplinary
matters. All the ships officers and chiefs met with CPO Howell frequently
because the XO ran the ship (the captain commanded it), and the XO's chief
took care of a lot of the details.
During World War II, it was not
unusual for an able young sailor to make CPO while still in his 20s or 30s.
Thus, on the Monterey, there arose the tradition of holding basketball games
between the chiefs and the junior officers. Someone took a picture of the
play during one of those games, and that picture made its way into the
National Archives photo collection. Fifty years later, Al Nofi and I were
working on a book about the Pacific War (The War in the Pacific
Encyclopedia), and the publisher (Facts on File) wanted some pictures.
So Al got in touch with the National Archives, and asked for pictures. One
of the pictures he obtained was of some men playing basketball in the
elevator well of the USS Monterey. I knew my uncle had served on that ship,
and one of the players in that picture looked like him. So while on a trip
to Florida, I dropped by and showed uncle Bill the picture and asked if that
was indeed him. He said yes, and commented in passing, "and that's
lieutenant Ford right there." What a coincidence. Well, it shouldn't have
been, as Ford was a star athlete (football) in college, and was still in
good shape ten years later. So when we sent the picture to the publisher, we
added to the caption, that little footnote on World War II, and
presidential history, that my uncle Bill played basketball with
Uncle Bill passed away ten years ago, having, like
Gerald Ford, survived the war and gone on to live a full life.
Ford is one of the guys jumping. Uncle Bill is the guy in the right foreground or the one going for the jump ball opposite Ford. Uncle Bill has gone to the big CPO Mess in the Sky.