Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Retirement Ceremony of Gen. John K. Gerhart, USAF

April 02, 1965

Mr. Vinson:

I am very blessed with many things but no one is richer in his associations and his friendships than I have been throughout the years. Dr. Billy Graham comes here frequently and gives me strength and comfort and prays over me, and nobody needs a prayer more than I do. He is leaving today. They stayed all night with me last night and he has to go on with other good work today. And I have my old friend Carl Vinson who has been looking after me and praying over me for 30 years, and he is going to stay with me all night tonight.

We have come here this morning to express the gratitude of this country to a very distinguished officer of the United States Air Force who has served his Nation well for more than 30 years.

General Gerhart was born in 1907. Two years later a piloted airplane crossed the English Channel for the first time--in 31 minutes. Thirty-three years later the General became commander of four groups of the B-17 Flying Fortresses which crossed that channel many times. They supported our Allied effort to return freedom to the continent of Europe.

The general we honor this morning is one who grew up with the air age. In 1928 he elected to leave life as a student at the University of Chicago where he was studying philosophy. One year later, he was a second lieutenant graduating from the flying school at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.

In the career that followed, General Gerhart was a test pilot and then a glider pilot-a brave leader of brave men in war and in peace. I might also mention that he even found the courage to go to Harvard Business School to learn about the computer age. And this Government is very fortunate that we got a Secretary of Defense who learned about it too at the Harvard Business School.

In 1940, before this country's entry into World War II, our air forces had 2,500 airplanes and 43,000 men. Three years later there were 80,000 airplanes and 2,300,000 men. General Gerhart was one of that famous band of dedicated, brilliant professionals who made this very remarkable growth possible. He and his comrades will be remembered always as that inspired and valuable few who helped guide the destiny of a peace-loving people through a great war that we did not seek--to assume responsibilities which we bear so willingly today for the peace and security of mankind everywhere.

General Gerhart has been close to the heart of our defense and our security as Commander in Chief of the North American Air Defense Command. In this position, as in all others, his service has been remarkably outstanding.

So it is a great privilege for me this morning and I am very proud to present to General Gerhart another addition to his long list of honors for a life nobly spent in the service of his country and his fellow men, his second Distinguished Service Medal.

The Secretary will now read the citation.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the East Room at the White House following an invocation by Rev. Billy Graham. His opening words referred to Carl Vinson, Representative from Georgia 1915-1964.

At the conclusion of the President's remarks, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara read the citation and the medal was presented. General Gerhart then responded briefly. The text of his remarks was also made public.

General Gerhart served as Commander in Chief of the North American Air Defense Command from August 1, 1962, through March 31, 1965.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Retirement Ceremony of Gen. John K. Gerhart, USAF Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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