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Remarks on Presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to General John E McConnell.

July 17, 1969

General and Mrs. McConnell, Mr. Secretary, all of our distinguished guests from the Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

We are here again for one of those historic ceremonies which all of us will remember, and particularly, I think, has special meaning for this Nation.

General McConnell, who retires today, is one who began his service 40 years ago, and as I was thinking of the historic flight to the moon which is now in process, it occurred to me that General McConnell's service in the Air Force really spans a great period in the whole history of flight, because he entered the service just a year after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic.

We all remember the immense reaction--those of us who are old enough-remember the immense reaction we had in this country when that occurred, and now General McConnell completes his service as man now makes the great breakthrough of going to the moon.

On this occasion we think of the service he has rendered, in war and in peace. I think "in peace" should be particularly emphasized, because I believe that General McConnell's whole life, his service in the Joint Chiefs--and I have sat with him in meetings of the National Security Council and know whereof I speak his whole life bears out what General Twining1 once said, that if our air forces are never used, they have served their finest purpose. That is what the men in the Air Force, the men in the Army, the men in the Navy, all the Armed Forces truly believe in this country. We maintain our strength, but we maintain it for peace.

1Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff 1953-1957 and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff 1957-1960.

I think as this flight goes to the moon today we have one, what to me is a very moving and touching aspect of it that I would like to report to you now.

Our astronauts will be taking with them the flags of the 50 States and a number of other items of great interest which they will bring back. They will also be taking with them the medals that were given to three of our astronauts who were killed in the Apollo flight, and they will leave on the moon the patches from those medals.

They also will be taking with them two other medals. When Frank Borman was in the Soviet Union he was presented two medals from the wives of the cosmonauts, the Russian cosmonauts, who lost their lives in their space program. And at the request of their wives we will leave those medals on the moon.

I think this symbolic act of leaving on the moon in the one case the aspects of the medals of those who lost their lives in our space program, and the medals of the Soviet cosmonauts, indicates the true spirit of the American Armed Forces. We maintain strength, but we maintain it because we want peace, peace with all countries.

It is in that spirit today that I am very happy to participate in honoring a man whose life has been dedicated to peace, dedicated to peace even when he had to fight in war, and dedicated to peace as he has maintained the air forces and their strength in times of peace.

Now Secretary Laird will read the citation.

[Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird read the citation, the text of which follows.]






The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, awards the Distinguished Service Medal to General John P. McConnell, for exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility. General McConnell distinguished himself as Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, from 1 February 1967 to 31 July 1969. In the highest military office of the Air Force, which position he assumed initially in February 1965, and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McConnell consistently manifested an untiring devotion to duty, combining outstanding professional knowledge with leadership and integrity of the highest calibre. Throughout a period of continuing threats to the security and vital interests of the United States and the Free World, General McConnell's extensive knowledge, managerial skill, and diplomacy greatly enhanced the capability of the Air Force and Department of Defense to meet expanding world-wide military commitments. His personal concern for the welfare of Air Force men and women led to significant improvements in pay, housing, promotion, and medical care for Air Force Personnel. During a period of major advancements in the technological development of the Air Force, his foresight and leadership added materially to the preservation of aerospace power as a potent factor in the attainment of world peace. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of General McConnell culminate a long and distinguished career of more than 37 years of service to his country, and reflect the highest credit upon himself, the Armed Forces of the United States, and the United States of America.


Note: The President spoke at 10:04 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

The remarks of General McConnell, following those of the President, are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 998).

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to General John E McConnell. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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