Patricia Ford Ivey was a little girl when she first heard the story about her namesake, Gunners Mate Second Class Patrick O. Ford. The uncle she never met was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on June 21, 1968.
While on patrol aboard PBR-750 on the My Tho river in Vietnam, Ford’s boat was ambushed. While he was providing covering fire from the aft machine gun, his boat was disabled by heavy enemy fire including rockets. In the face of point-blank enemy fire Ford assisted three seriously wounded shipmates from the PBR and into the river. Only after ensuring that all other surviving crewmembers had left the boat did Ford enter the water, where he was reportedly killed by enemy machine-gun fire. His body was not recovered until four days later.
That is the information on his Navy Cross citation, anyway. “We always felt there was more to the story,” said Patty, herself now an Air Force veteran and member of Bennett and Dennis Herrick Memorial American Legion Post 626 in Gladstone. “Later in life our father would say that there was indeed more, but was hesitant to go into great detail.” The details were gruesome. When the remains were returned to the States, the family opened the coffin to ensure that it was undeniably Patrick, and what they saw led them to believe that he died from much more than machine-gun fire.
Years later, on June 29, 1985, the Navy commissioned a ship in his name, FFG-54, USS Ford. He was again being recognized for heroism in saving two of the three shipmates he had helped over the side that fateful day. When that ship was decommissioned on Oct. 31, 2013, Patrick’s family was contacted by a friend of his, Bob Mitchell, who was also in contact with additional friends. “They couldn’t understand why he (Patrick Ford) had not received the Medal of Honor,” said Patty. “They thought they had more than enough information to give, but were never contacted in any kind of investigation. They insisted there was more to what he had done, more too on how he had suffered in captivity during the last days of his life. They wanted me to look into it and see if I could correct the record, because only the family could do it; it was out of their hands.”
Patty took on the project. “I do that,” she said. “I take on a project, put my head down and just plow forward until it’s done.” And this is a big project. Patty has accumulated many emails and letters from friends and shipmates, even people who didn’t know her uncle well but were willing to verify details. During this project she has grown attached to many of these sailors. “And it’s not only about getting Uncle Pat the recognition that he deserves,” she says. “It’s about putting his memory to rest with his friends, helping them to find peace with what they know about him. And it’s about the friendships I’m forming in this quest. Charley (one of his friends) told me that knowing someone else cares has allowed him to really sleep for the first time in 46 years! I cried.”
During this investigation, Patty has been able to get statements about many details that are not part of his Navy Cross citation and that contradict his dying after entering the water. His citation doesn’t mention that his clothes were on fire when he put the wounded shipmates into the water. The record ends with him getting into the water and getting killed. It does not mention how he made it to shore with an M-60 MG and helped cover the rescue efforts as another PBR retrieved his crew from the river. Or how he was captured only when his ammunition ran out, or how he was tortured for four days until he was tied to a tree as bait for another ambush. These are the details that his friends know and have known ever since the ambush.
Patty contacted her American Legion post to get advice and any help that they could provide, as well as congressmen Sam Graves and Joseph McCarthy, and senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill. Post 626 heard her story in June of last year and encouraged her to keep in contact with her representatives and not let them lose sight of the issue.
In her initial request to her post for help, Patty said, “P.O. Ford’s comrades in arms and I believe he went above the call of duty and displayed uncommon heroism in his conduct under fire and that he deserves to receive the Medal of Honor. Instead of seeing to his own wounds and while his clothing was on fire, he helped his crew members to escape. Instead of swimming away from the enemy, he waded toward them to provide cover. His actions that day displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life and went beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, his courage, daring initiative and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
“When Patty made her presentation to the post we all knew right then that we had to help her get this sailor's story corrected,” said Douglas Millison, the post’s historian. “We asked her to provide us with copies of her documentation so we could take it up through our channels while she worked on getting her representatives' help.” Commander Beer from Post 626 wrote a letter of support for her to send with her correspondence to her representatives in Congress, in which he expressed the post's desire to ensure that an investigation be conducted into the events during the ambush as well as the status of Ford up until his body was recovered on the 25th. Post 626 passed two resolutions calling for The American Legion as a whole to support a Medal of Honor investigation as well as a change of status for the last four days of his life to Prisoner of War. These resolutions were passed by the Department of Missouri’s 3rd District in September 2014 and have been submitted to the Department of Missouri for action at the convention in Springfield this July.
“Congressman Graves has taken the lead in helping us out,” said Patty. “It’s a relief to know that it hasn’t been put in a cabinet somewhere.” In July 2014 Graves’ office wrote a letter to Rear Adm. Mike Fraken, the chief of legislative affairs, requesting all existing records on Ford, the action on June 21, his recovery on June 25 and the Navy Cross recommendation. His office has since drafted a Letter of Congressional Endorsement to begin the process of awarding Ford the Medal of Honor posthumously. “I am inspired by Patty and her siblings’ tireless work to see their uncle is honored as the selfless hero that he was,” Graves said. “Gunner’s Mate Patrick O. Ford gave everything for his country, and the lasting legacy of his life will be the sacrifices he made protecting his fellow soldiers and defending our freedom. It is humbling to have the opportunity to help his family ensure he gets the recognition he deserves.”
“I am looking forward to moving this process ahead one more step this summer," said Millison. “If The Department of Missouri passes it at convention, it then goes to National for their action. If approved there, we can count on the full influence of The American Legion getting behind Legionnaire Patricia Ford Ivey’s efforts for her uncle and his shipmates. To this Legionnaire it is extremely important that the record be set right.”