Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Ford.

March 31, 1973

Mr. and Mrs. Ford, all of our distinguished guests tonight:

As most of you know, I have made many speeches in my life. I have never had a harder act to follow.

It was, however, not an act, because everything we have heard tonight was from the heart. And as I, with you, enjoyed this program, I thought that Mr. Ford would want me to say that tonight we honor a man. We think of him as a great man, one of the geniuses of his profession. But I think he would want me to say, speaking for all of the American people, we honor a great profession, all of the people in the motion picture profession. Thank you very much.

As we saw some of the excerpts from the great Ford motion pictures, we thought of what motion pictures have meant to us in this country and in the world. It is very easy to generalize with regard to what a motion picture or any kind of entertainment should be, any kind of theater. I would put it very simply this way:

It must be everything. Sometimes there is a need for us to laugh and sometimes there is a need for us to cry. Sometimes we must be happy, and sometimes we must be sad. Sometimes we need to be inspired; other times we need to escape. And always we need to be reminded of the greatness of our Nation. We need also to be reminded of the fact that we can be something bigger than ourselves. And so on the screen we see the great actors, the great stories, all made possible by great directors and producers.

I am an unabashed movie fan. I think I have seen virtually all of the 140 movies, and I am grateful to all of you in Hollywood in this great profession for making us first in the world in motion pictures and conveying through American motion pictures to the world what I believe is a complete picture of America and a good picture of America, because that is what you have done.

I now come to my part in the program and a tribute to Mr. Ford. I have noted tonight that he has been characterized in several different ways. Some have called him "Boss," and others have called him "Jack," and most have called him "Pappy." But there was one term that I did not like. They called him a rear admiral. John Ford was never "rear," and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, for the balance of this evening, John Ford is a full admiral.

The second part of my presentation is one that gives me great honor. The President of the United States always, and as it should be in a free country, has to take positions and make speeches from time to time in which there is a difference of opinion among our people. However, there are rare occasions, and this is one of them, when he speaks for all of the people. It used to be said in American politics, "As Maine goes, so goes the Nation," and in 1932 that proved not to be true. But tonight, as this son of Maine goes, so goes the Nation. It isn't just a landslide; it is unanimous for John Ford.

Therefore, I tonight speak for all of the American people, for millions of people around this world, who respect and appreciate his genius, because John Ford is one who, by what he has done, has earned the respect of not only his countrymen but of others throughout the world.

There is little that I can add to the citation that I will read to you in a moment, except to say that we can present to him only the highest civilian award that can be presented in this country, and its name is one that is very appropriate, because John Ford passionately loves freedom. John Ford, in his works, has depicted freedom in all of its profound depths, in all of its aspects to all of the world, and John Ford has fought for freedom, and for that reason it is appropriate that tonight, on behalf of all of the American people, he receives the Medal of Freedom. I now read the citation:

"The President of the United States of America awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Ford.

"In the annals of American film, no name shines more brightly than that of John Ford. Director and film maker for more than half a century, he stands preeminent in the crowd, not only as a creator of individual films of surpassing excellence, but as a master among those who transformed the early motion pictures into a compelling new art form that developed in America and swept the world. As an interpreter of the nation's heritage, he left his personal stamp indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of whole generations, both here and abroad. In his life and in his work, John Ford represents the best in American films, and the very best in America."

Note: The President spoke at 10:37 p.m. at the first annual awards dinner of the American Film Institute in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, Calif.

On the same day, the White House released the text of the citation accompanying the award for Mr. Ford and a fact sheet on the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Following the President's remarks, Mr. Ford responded as follows:

Thank you, sir.

As [former POW] Captain Jeremiah Denton said--I hope I get through with this; I am about ready to bust out in crying--as Captain Denton said as he set foot for the first time in many years on continental American soil, "I am stunned and bewildered at this reception." He ended with "God bless America." I quote his words with feeling.

There are some people in this world who don't think that we movie folks have any religion, but a glance around this distinguished audience is living refutation of that nonsense.

In a recent telephone conversation with the President, he said, "What is your reaction to the prisoners coming home?" I said, "Frankly, sir, I broke down and blubbered and cried like a baby. Then I reached for my rosary and said a few decades of the beads, and I uttered a short fervent prayer, not an original prayer, but one spoken in millions of American homes today. It is a simple prayer, simply, 'God bless Richard Nixon.'"

Thank you.

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Ford. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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