John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Paul Henri Spaak, Secretary General of NATO.

February 21, 1961

MAY I SAY, speaking for myself, that one opportunity to present this medal to Mr. Spaak is an extremely pleasant one.

This is the first such occasion that has been provided to me as President of the United States. The idea of the Atlantic Community, of the close association between members of NATO, has been one that has occupied many men's attention in the years since the end of the war. But I don't think that any man has given more than Mr. Spaak.

Liberty is not easy to find. It is a search that takes us on a hard road. But Mr. Spaak has been willing to follow that road, and I think that all of us who are members of NATO have benefited from this close attention he has given to the search.

We wish him well in whatever he may do in the future, but I think that he will agree that the service that he has provided to all of us who are members of NATO represents a most distinguished and happy occasion in his work.

We value his association. And this presentation before the members of NATO, before the Ambassadors speaking for their country, I think indicates our high regard for you and our gratitude to you for your work.

Note: The President presented the award at a ceremony held at 11:20 a.m. in his office at the White House. Mr. Spaak responded as follows:

"Mr. President, I ask permission to say a few words, but to say them in French, because my English is never very good.

"When I am touched, it is indeed bad. I am very thankful to you. I am very touched and honored by the medal just awarded to me.

"I am leaving NATO, and one of my regrets is not to work with your administration any longer, as I have in the past, because the medal that you have just presented to. me is, for me, a sign that that cooperation during these years has been a happy relationship.

"NATO is a great institution, a very useful institution-it can only function at its best if the United States plays a great role in it and shows its interest. And this medal which is given to me--and personally touches me deeply--seems to me to be also a proof of the importance that the United States Government attaches to NATO--and shows its strong desire to continue to participate in the work of the Organization with the same willingness that it has shown in the past.

"I am therefore doubly thankful. For myself, Mr. President, and for NATO, I thank you most sincerely."

Mr. Spaak served as Secretary General of NATO from May 1957 to March 4, 1961.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Paul Henri Spaak, Secretary General of NATO. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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