Kentucky Guard mourns loss of strong advocate

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Sen. Wendell Ford.jpg

Wendell H. Ford, senator, governor, lieutenant governor, Army Veteran, Kentucky National Guardsman.

OWENSBORO, Ky. — On a cold and cloudy day along the Ohio River, Kentucky said farewell to Wendell Hampton Ford, a man former President Bill Clinton called “the quintessential Kentuckian.” Hundreds of friends, family and acquaintances packed the First Baptist Church in Owensboro, Jan. 27, for the funeral of the former governor and U.S. Senator.

Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Steve Beshear and elected officials of Kentucky joined the Ford family for the last chapter in life of a man who’s impact helped shape the Commonwealth. Ford died Jan. 22 at his home in Owensboro, at the age of 90.

“Not only have we have lost one of the finest legislators Kentucky has ever seen, but Sen. Ford was one of the Guard’s strongest advocates,” said Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, adjutant general for Kentucky. “We have been blessed to have such a champion in our corner for so many years. His service to this Commonwealth and the Nation will not soon be surpassed.”

Born near Owensboro the life-long resident of Kentucky attended the University of Kentucky prior to enlisting into the Army in 1944. He trained as an administrative NCO and was promoted to technical sergeant by the end of 1945.

Lt. Wendell H. Ford

Lt. Wendell H. Ford, Kentucky National Guard, circa 1950. (Photo from a 1972 edition of the Kentucky Guardsman)

After the war and his graduation from the Maryland School of Insurance, Ford enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard in June 1949, joining Company I, 149th Infantry Regimental Combat Team in Owensboro as a Technical Sergeant. He held that rank until August 1949, when he was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry.

During a reorganization of the Kentucky Guard in 1949 his infantry company was converted to tanks and Ford served as a company commander in the 240th Tank Battalion until he transferred to the inactive Guard in 1956. Ford was discharged from the Kentucky National Guard in 1962.

Ford served as the chief assistant to Kentucky Governor Bert T. Combs from 1959-1961. He served in the Kentucky state senate from 1965-1967 and was elected lieutenant governor in 1967 under Governor Louie B. Nunn. Ford was elected Governor of Kentucky 1971, where he served until 1974. Ford would later be quoted as saying those years were the best of his political career.

Ford was elected to the United States Senate in November 1974 then reelected in 1980, 1986, and again in 1992 for the term ending January 3, 1999.

On Nov. 14, 1996, Ford broke Alben W. Barkley’s record for the longest consecutive service in the U.S. Senate as a Senator from the Commonwealth. He became the overall longest serving Senator from Kentucky in March of 1998.

Friends and family recalled that Ford entered politics to help people and he was successful because of his ability to connect with people from all walks of life, all across Kentucky. He was quoted “Kentucky is beautiful women, fast horses, bourbon whiskey, cigarettes and coal. I represent Kentucky, and that’s what I represent.”

Ford supported all aspects of the Commonwealth and its people, including the Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen.

In 1989, he joined Missouri senator Kit Bond in forming the Senate National Guard Caucus, a coalition of senators committed to advancing the capabilities and readiness of the National Guard. Ford said he was motivated to form the caucus after seeing the work done by Mississippi Representative Sonny Montgomery with the National Guard Bureau. Ford co-chaired the caucus with Bond until Ford’s retirement from the Senate in 1999.

WHFRTC_MAIN

The Kentucky National Guard’s premiere training site was dedicated in Wendell H. Ford’s honor Oct. 17, 1997. (Photo courtesy of Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center)

As United States Senator, Ford was instrumental in funding the construction of facilities at the Kentucky Guard’s training site in Greenville, Kentucky. The facility was named in his honor, the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center (WHFRTC), on October 17, 1997.

During this time, Ford helped in the fight to bring C-130s to the Kentucky Air Guard as the 123rd Airlift Wing transitioned from a fighter wing. He would also later use his authority in Washington D.C. to ensure those planes stayed in Kentucky during military draw downs.

The National Guard Bureau presented Ford with the Sonny Montgomery Award, its highest honor, in 1999.

Read about the dedication of WHFRTC in our winter, 1998 issue of the Bluegrass Guard here.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Armstrong, who worked tirelessly on the Guard side to build WHFRTC, also called Ford a crusader for the Guard and Kentucky.

“Senator Ford worked diligently providing continued support for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing. He took great pride and ownership with his support and funding of the phased constructions of the Wendell Ford Training Center,” said Armstrong.

“Our paths crossed many times over the years and Senator Ford never forgot a face or a name, nor did he ever lose the passion and caring for the Kentucky National Guard.”

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