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William Clay Ford, Sr., Navy Pre-Flight Sparkle

December 10, 2019

 

If you've seen the film, "Ford v. Ferrari" you understand how Ford Motor Company helped win WWII, cranking out bombers and trucks for the US Army while Henry T. Ford's grandsons joined the military.  

 

In 1945, William Clay Ford, Sr., younger brother of Henry Ford II (Navy) and Benson Ford (Army), trained as a cadet at St. Mary's Pre-Flight. The press portrayed 20-year-old "Bill" as "one of the guys" with a "sparkle" in his big brown eyes, who low-key blended in with cadets when he mopped floors. At 5-foot-8, weighing 150 pounds, Bill was a human spark plug, running the 100-yd. dash in 10.5 seconds.  He also excelled in soccer.   

 

Esquire magazine branded Navy Pre-Flight's physical conditioning as "the best in the world to teach youngsters to think quickly under pressure and to develop teamwork skills." Navy football coaches at St. Mary's included "Tex" Oliver, Jules Verne Sikes and Spike Nelson.  With cadet players from the Giants, Green Bay and Stanford, the Pre-Flight Air Devils were good enough to beat UCLA twice.  Other coaches around base included HOF Detroit Tiger Charlie Gehringer and Senators' catcher Al Sabo, while Gerald "Jerry" Ford, "Ike" Deeter and former Olympian Ray Gadsby coached boxing, and "Mal" Metcalf, who competed in the men's javelin throw in the '32 and '36 Olympics, coached track.    

 

While Henry Ford II built the fastest sports cars in the world, beating Ferrari in the Le Mans, brother Bill became one of the most beloved owners of an NFL team when he purchased the Detroit Lions in 1964.  When William Clay Ford, Sr., died in 2014 at age 88, he was regarded as patient, wise, diplomatic and fiercely loyal to Ford Motor Company, his family, and the Lions, maintaining that Old Navy sparkle during his team's losing seasons.  

 

 

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© 2018 by Anne Keene