Remarks at a Dinner in Los Angeles Honoring the Apollo 11 Astronauts
Thank you, Governor Reagan, for that very gracious and generous welcome to California to our astronauts and also to all of our guests who have come a long way, not as far as they have come, but a long way to this dinner.
And before we make some of the official awards on this historic occasion, I thought that all of the people in this great audience here and those millions who are listening on television, or seeing on television, would like to know some of the people that are here. All should be introduced in this distinguished group. All cannot be. But I am sure that we should have some.
And except for those that will later participate in the program, I wish that those that I will now name will stand and their wives with them as they are named so that those on television and those in this audience can know who have come to honor our astronauts.
First, the Chief Justice of the United States and Mrs. Burger.
The former Vice President of the United States and Mrs. Humphrey.
There are 50 Members of the House and Senate of the United States present. Will all of the Members of the House and Senate of the United States and their wives please stand so that we may honor you?
There has never been a White House dinner in which so many Governors have been present, because there can only be 100 seated at a White House dinner. There are 44 Governors here present. Will the 44 Governors and their wives please stand and be honored?
Also, there are more members of the Cabinet present than are usually present at a Cabinet meeting. [Laughter] Will the 14 members of the Cabinet please stand and be honored?
And now, there are 83 countries represented here tonight by their ambassadors or other representatives. This is the greatest representation at a state dinner ever held in the United States of America. Will the 83 countries represented, the ambassadors and charges, please stand and be honored?
Our astronauts had a great welcome in New York and later in Chicago and now in Los Angeles. And I can tell them that when they go abroad they will also there receive a welcome, because Mrs. Nixon and I have just returned from a trip around the world. It took us to eight countries in 9 days. And in every one of those nations, every country, the streets of Manila and Djakarta and New Delhi and Bangkok and Bucharest, wherever we went, the words, the deeds, what the astronauts meant to the world, that was everything that we heard.
And I do think of the moment, a very moving moment in Bucharest, just a little over a week ago, when almost a million people were on the streets. And on the other side of the Iron Curtain, thousands of those people held up a picture of the three astronauts. This was certainly one way to bring the world together there in Bucharest, Romania a week ago.
Now, tonight, we honor three very brave men. They would be the first to tell us that what they achieved would not have been possible had it not been for the assistance they received from many thousands of others who will also be honored tonight and, also, by others who preceded them in the work that now has reached the pinnacle of success.
When we think of those who have gone before, it reminds us that the reason we can see further than those of yesterday is that we have the privilege sometimes of standing on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us. Many giants have gone before these three great men we honor tonight.
January 27, 1967, was a day that all Americans will remember, a day of sadness and a day of shock, but it is a day tonight that we wish to remember in a different way.
On that day, three of the giants who made possible this achievement died. And the names of Grissom and White and Chaffee will live forever in the annals of brave men, brave men who through their exploration and their sacrifice made possible the magnificent achievement we honor tonight.
And, therefore, tonight, I would like to ask Dr. Paine, the Director of NASA, to step forward and to read a citation to these three men, a posthumous award of NASA's highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Medal.
[Dr. Thomas O. Paine, Administrator of NASA, read the posthumous citation which was awarded separately to the three astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, Lt. Col. Edward H. White, 2d, and Lt. Comdr. Roger B. Chaffee, who died in a fire in their Apollo 204 spacecraft at Cape Kennedy. The three citations, which were identical except for the name of the recipient, read as follows:]
THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND
VIRGIL I. GRISSOM
THE NASA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE MEDAL
For professional skill, courage, and dedication to duty in Project Apollo. He gave his life in this country's historic undertaking to realize the goal of landing men on the moon and returning them safely to earth.
Signed and sealed at Washington, D.C. this eleventh day of August Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Nine
T. O. PAINE
[The President resumed speaking.]
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight in this audience are two very brave women. The men who explore the unknown are men of courage and the women who stay behind, their wives, are gallant women, women of courage. And tonight I would like to ask Mrs. Betty Grissom and Mrs. Pat White to step forward to receive the medals that their husbands have just been awarded.
When we think of the achievements of our astronauts, we also are aware of what we have often been told by those who have been on flights before.
And I recall that over and over again, the same theme runs through what they say. The theme is that it wouldn't have been possible except for all of those who worked on the ground.
Four hundred thousand, perhaps over 400,000, men and women made possible the success of the space flights.
So, tonight, we not only want to honor the men who made this great achievement, but we also want to honor those who helped them make it possible.
And we are honoring them through a citation, a Group Achievement Award, which will now be read, a citation by Dr. Paine.
[Dr. Paine read the following citation:]
THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
GROUP ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
TO APOLLO 11 MISSION OPERATIONS TEAM
For exceptional service in planning and exemplary execution of mission operational responsibilities for Apollo 11--the first manned lunar landing mission. The distinguished performance of this team was decisive in the success of this first extraterrestrial exploration mission, a major milestone in the advancement of mankind.
Signed and sealed at Washington, D.C. this eleventh day of August Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Nine
T. O. PAINE
[The President then resumed speaking.]
Anyone who has visited Houston or who has had an opportunity to visit some of the other installations of our space program is enormously impressed by the men and women who work in it. We are impressed by their intelligence, by their dedication, and when I was in Houston I was greatly impressed by their youth.
The man that has been selected tonight to receive this Group Achievement Award for the whole 400,000, who. in one way or another, have contributed to the success of this program, is a young man, 26 years of age. But Steve Bales, who was the Flight Control Engineer on this project, made a critical decision just before Eagle 1 landed on the Sea of Tranquility that could have made the difference between success or failure. And if he would step forward to receive this Group Achievement Award, representing all of those on the ground who made the venture to the moon possible.
This is the young man, when the computers seemed to be confused and when he could have said "Stop," or when he could have said "Wait," said, "Go."
And now, we reach the moment in the day, a long day for our astronauts, which we have all been looking forward to here and all the Nation has been awaiting, when the Nation tries in the highest way we know possible to honor these men for what they have done.
We are, therefore, awarding them tonight the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor that we can present to an American citizen. And to read those citations, the Vice President of the United States, who is Chairman of the Space Council, will now come to the rostrum.
[Vice President Spiro T. Agnew read the text of the citations which were awarded separately to the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil A. Armstrong, Col. Michael Collins, and Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. The three citations which were identical except for the name of the recipient read as follows:
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AWARDS THIS PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM WITH DISTINCTION TO NEIL A. ARMSTRONG
As a member of the crew of the United States Spacecraft Apollo Eleven, he participated directly in a unique and profoundly important adventure. The accumulated scientific knowledge and technological ability of mankind made man's first step on the moon practicable; the courage and skill of men like Neil Armstrong made it possible. His contribution to this great undertaking will be remembered so long as men wonder and dream and search for truth on this planet and among the stars.
The White House
August 13, 1969
[The President then resumed speaking.]
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it says here, "remarks by the President." Don't worry, I won't try to top what we have just witnessed and felt.
But I do know that all of us here, even after a long day, would like to hear briefly from each of our astronauts.
COL. COLLINS. Mr. President, here stands one proud American, proud to be a member of the Apollo team, proud to be a citizen of the United States of America which nearly a decade ago said that it would land two men on the moon and then did so, showing along the way, to the world, both the triumphs and the tragedies--and proud to be an inhabitant of this most magnificent planet.
As I looked at it from nearly a quarter of a million miles away, 3 weeks ago, the people of New York, of Chicago, and of Los Angeles were far from my mind, frankly. [Laughter]
But tonight, they are very close to my mind. I wish that each and every one of you could have been with us today to see their enthusiasm and the magnificent greeting which they gave us upon our return.
And, of course, now the Freedom Medal. I simply cannot express in words what that means to me. But I would like to say thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT. Colonel Aldrin.
COL. ALDRIN. Thank you, Mr. President. I feel that the honor you have given us goes not just to us as a crew but to countless thousands of others. Some are here tonight. Many cannot be.
It goes to hundreds of thousands of Government and industry people who have strived over 8 long years on Apollo. Their success and the steppingstones of Apollo 7, 8, 9, and 10, gave us the opportunity to take Apollo 1 1 to the moon and land.
It is an honor, in a sense, that goes to all Americans who believed, who persevered with us.
Across this country today, we saw how deeply they believed. We saw it by their spontaneous enthusiasm and warmth of greeting for us.
Our flight was your flight. We flew Eagle and Columbia with your hands helping us on the controls and your spirit behind us.
When Neil and I saluted the flag, all Americans, I think, saluted it with us.
We hope that the proud emblem of the American Eagle, carrying the olive branch to the moon, may inspire a new generation.
The words you spoke to us, Mr. President, that incredible night on the moon, summed up many of the feelings which we have felt today from the people of this great country.
What Apollo has begun we hope will spread out in many directions, not just in space, but underneath the seas and in the cities, to tell us unforgettably that we can do what we will and must and want to do.
Never before have travelers been so far removed from their homelands as we were. Yet, never before have travelers had so many human beings at their right hand.
There are footprints on the moon. Those footprints belong to each and every one of you, to all of mankind, and they are there because of the blood, the sweat, and the tears of millions of people.
These footprints are a symbol of the true human spirit.
Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. The first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
MR. ARMSTRONG. We were privileged to leave on the moon a plaque endorsed by you, Mr. President, saying "for all mankind."
You, too, took a trip, as you pointed out, around the world and carried that message to all mankind. Perhaps in the third millennium a wayward stranger will read that plaque at Tranquility Base and let history mark that this was the age in which that became a fact.
I was struck this morning in New York by a proudly-waved, but uncarefully scribbled sign. It said, "Through you, we touched the moon." Through you, we touched the moon.
It was our privilege today across the country to touch America.
I suspect that perhaps the most warm, genuine feeling that all of us could receive came through the cheers and shouts and, most of all, the smiles of our fellow Americans.
We hope and think that those people shared our belief that this is the beginning of a new era, the beginning of an era when man understands the universe around him, and the beginning of the era when man understands himself. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. Will you please remain standing for a moment?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my high honor and privilege at this point to propose a toast. And in doing so, I want to say very simply to our three astronauts, we thank you for your courage. We thank you for raising our sights, the sights of men and women throughout the world to a new dimension--the sky is no longer the limit.
And we thank you, too, for the men that you are, you and all of your colleagues, what fine men, what fine examples to young America and young people all over the world.
It has been my privilege in the White House, and also in other world capitals, to propose toasts to many distinguished people, to emperors, to kings, to presidents, to prime ministers, and, yes, to a duke; and tonight, this is the highest privilege I could have, to propose a toast to America's astronauts.
Let's raise our glasses to America's astronauts.
1 The Eagle was the lunar excursion module which took astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin down to the moon's surface on July 20, 1969, and then carried them back into lunar orbit to rendezvous with the command ship, Columbia.
Note: The exchange of remarks began at 10:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles Room at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, Calif.
The remarks of Governor Ronald Reagan, who introduced the President, are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, P. 1148).
An announcement on August 12, 1969, of the dinner and biographic information on the three astronauts is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, P. 1141). On the same day a release containing a partial list of those attending the dinner was also issued. On August 13, 1969, a more complete guest list was issued by the White House Press Office.
Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Dinner in Los Angeles Honoring the Apollo 11 Astronauts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/240036