Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Freedom to Secretary of State Dean Rusk

January 16, 1969

Secretary and Mrs. Rusk, Secretary and Mrs. Katzenbach, Ambassador and Mrs. Ball, ladies and gentlemen:

This is a great treat for me. It is a great privilege for me to be here with Dean Rusk's colleagues and Nick Katzenbach's colleagues. I know of few men whom I have met in public life who have given of themselves more than the men who presented themselves here this evening.

It is a very rare thing for a man to love his country so much, and to be so dedicated to serving it, that he would leave a Cabinet post to become Under Secretary and serve without any plaudits or applause because he wanted to bring peace in the world. But that is what we have with the Under Secretary and his wife. I think the history of this decade will show that they thought more of their country than they did of themselves.

I was thinking the other evening when I was going over Nick Katzenbach's resignation, I was trying to figure out whether I could give, after I left the Government, as much in material things as he had given while he was in the Government. He was a great lawyer, a skilled counselor, and a wise human being. His 8 years of service to two Presidents, had they been given to private enterprise, would have run much more than a million dollars. But he chose to give it to human beings instead. I want to pay him public tribute and say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I wasn't the slightest surprised because any man who would offer his life for his country and spend a good deal of it in a prison camp certainly would be trained in how to spend it in the State Department.

I can't let this occasion go by without paying my tribute to George Ball. He is one of the ablest, most loyal, and most courageous men that I have known in public life. He reminds me of many great men I have known, particularly of a schoolteacher who came out to apply for a job during the depression in my little town of Johnson City. The school board was divided on whether the world was round or flat. They asked him how he taught it. The poor fellow needed a job so much, he said: "I can teach it either way."

George Ball is the only man whom I have ever really known in the Government who, on 5 minutes instructions from the President, can take either side of a proposition and present it to you so you can understand both sides. Then, if you want his judgment he just asks you to let him sleep over it during the night and he will call back the next day and tell you really how he feels about it.

I remember one time when everyone in the Department had recommended a big loan for India of food, and it ran up almost to $1 billion. I just thought all of them were wrong, Dean Rusk, Nick Katzenbach, Bill Gaud, the Secretary of the Treasury, and everybody. So, I called over to a big law firm, and I said to George Ball: "George, would you stop by at the State Department and pick up all the Indian papers, go home and study them tonight, and come over and tell me tomorrow why this loan should not be granted."

He said: "Yes, sir, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. President." He came by and picked up the papers. The next day he came back, and he pointed out that the weather had been a little better, and the crops had been a little better, and things had improved some in India, and they had deteriorated some in the Passman committee of the House of Representatives, and he rather felt it would be more prudent to go along with a more moderate allocation than what was recommended.

I listened to it and I thought, that is one of the smartest men I have ever heard. He was very convincing. I called in the men who handled these papers for me and I said: "I just hate to turn down Dean Rusk. I would rather do this, but Dean is just so sympathetic and so compassionate and I just listened to George Ball. George Ball was a do-gooder in his younger days, but he understands these things now. So, lets just go along with George Ball and draft up the papers." He said, "Yes, sir," very reluctantly. He didn't like the instructions at all, and he left with a rather disillusioned expression on his face, and I went to bed. The next morning, before I really got out of the mansion, I had a call that Secretary Ball is calling. He said: "Mr. President, I made the best argument I could yesterday. I did what you asked me to, but I thought it over overnight, and really I do think that you ought to probably go along with Dean Rusk."

So, I will say that he has gone along with Dean Rusk on most things, although he has always been able to present the other side of the coin that I presented or Dean Rusk presented or Nick Katzenbach presented. For him, and for that talent, and for that sincerity and that ability, I want to acknowledge it.

Now, I am going to take a little longer than I ought to. Most speakers do, but this is a unique occasion, and I am on my way out. I don't know when I will have a captive audience like this--so attractive, in such pleasant surroundings, all these objects Of art and architecture--but I have suffered some reverses the last few days. I hope most of you realize that I am taking a $175,000 cut in salary next Monday.

I never had the slightest doubt about the wisdom of my decision not to be a candidate for reelection, but I did reflect on it a good deal the other evening when they told me that the House had just passed a bill raising the President's salary from $100,000 to $200,000. But I guess I never was supposed to be a $200,000 President anyway.

This has been a great day for me. I have spent it attending ceremonies. I don't know whether it is easier to come into the Presidency or go out of the Presidency. I guess Mr. Nixon will have to tell us about that a little later on.

I just came from the Senate here. It was a very pleasant visit with Senator Mansfield, Senator McGovern, Senator Fulbright, Senator Gore, and some of the Senators, Dean, that you have spent some of your time with.

This morning I took great pride in awarding a Medal of Honor to four gallant Americans. Two of those men came from a very small town in the State of Georgia--Newnan, Georgia--with a population of less than 15,000.

It is very unusual to have two Medal of Honor awards to live men. Most of them go posthumously. It is not only unique, but I think unequaled, that you would ever have two of them from the same town, the same State, with a population of 15,000--that community.

These men fought with great courage over and above and beyond the call of duty. They and their comrades had been tested in war, and as a result, they love peace as few men can.

I never was so devoted to peace as I was about 15 minutes after I was shot at a few times. If you think the devotees of peace all reside in the marble halls and air-conditioned rooms of our colleges, you just ought to get out there in the foxholes sometimes.

I received a letter from my son-in-law today and he said, "In the language of GI's, my time is getting short. I'm short now. I only have 88 more days to go."

So these men love peace. But tonight I came here to decorate a man as I decorated two this morning. This man sprang from the soil which produced these other two heroes--these Medal of Honor winners.

Dean Rusk's own Cherokee County is less than 50 miles from the town where these two men were born--this marine and this airman. He shares another distinction, I think, that is even more compelling. If anything, if it is possible, I think he loves peace more than they do.

I think beyond the peradventure of a doubt he has given as much to the cause of peace as they have. Like his two brave neighbors, he faced his hardest challenge, as we all know, in Vietnam. The only difference was that Dean Rusk gave most of his blood and his sweat and his tears to his President and to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I am sure he would have preferred to have been 12 miles southwest of Danang many, many times when he was with me at the Tuesday luncheon or when he was with them for 2 or 3 days.

Dean Rusk is the one man whose passion for peace runs deeper, I think, than any man I know. He has worked harder and he has worked longer in its pursuit than any other man I know.

He is the man, who, above all others, knows what it takes to achieve a peace, because he has brushed up against the grindstone of international affairs and got a polish that you don't get just from going to Harvard or Yale.

I think I was as pleased for him this morning when they awakened me in the wee hours of the night as I was for myself when they told me that we were getting ready to take another long, forward step toward peace in Paris, largely as a result of his efforts. So we are proceeding there Saturday with high hopes and prayers.

Towering very high in his times, Dean Rusk, in my opinion, is this decade's man of the ages. And what I have said to you tonight I said to the Senate just a few minutes ago.

Now, most of the Medals of Honor have gone to men posthumously. The highest award any President can give is a Medal of Freedom to a civilian. And the highest Medal of Freedom--and it goes to a very small percentage of the total--is with distinction.

If I may, I would like to read you the citation as well as the award. It should have been made to Dean and Virginia Rusk because everything that you say about him, she has 50 percent of it.

[The President read the citation and the award, the texts of which follow.]

The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction to Dean Rusk. For eight years he served his country as Secretary of State. He brought to that office a brilliant mind, a wide knowledge of the world, a profound historical perspective and a rich experience in international affairs. He gave to that office a tireless devotion to his country's interest, and to the organization of a durable peace. He became, for millions of his fellow citizens and for countless millions throughout the world, a symbol of man's dauntless quest to be free. He knew that freedom required a willingness to sacrifice in its behalf. But he also knew that resolution in the face of aggression was not enough--that men must search for areas of common interest, and cooperative endeavors to reduce the threat of a third world war. This he did. He did it with steady determination, with cool reasoning and always with unfailing compassion. Disciplined and restrained in the face of calumny, brave and sure in the time of crisis, he earned the enduring respect of all who served with him. Selfless patriot, stalwart fighter for human rights, guardian of his nation's welfare and servant of mankind, history will rank him high among those who deserve to be called statesmen.


This is the award: The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dean Rusk with distinction. Dean Rusk has been the first member of the Cabinet of two Presidents. In length of service he has been exceeded by only one other Secretary of State.

In the brilliancy of his mind, the patient application of his skills at statescraft and his patriotic devotion to his nation's purpose and the cause of peace, he has been surpassed by none. He is a man of calm judgment, a servant of sound judgment, an eloquent and forceful champion of human freedom. His name will distinguish our history forever. His service lights the hope of our future.


I am going back home Monday and return to the profession that I left some 40 years ago. I have not given as much in material value to my country, I guess, as more talented people like Nick. But the first year that I am away I am going to read and write and I expect read more than I write.

But Mrs. Johnson and I have decided that what little we write, what we receive for it, we are going to allot for various good causes. And what I am going to do with the first book that will be out about 12 months from now on the highlights of this administration, is to put an endowment, a fund of $100,000, which we hope will earn 5 percent interest or $5,000 a year, and by the side of it we are going to make another endowment of $100,000 that we hope will earn 5 percent a year.

The dean and the faculty of the University of Texas Public Affairs School are going to look to the 50 States to find the finest scholars who will obtain their bachelor's degrees and who desire a career of public service, and we are going to set aside in the name of Dean Rusk and Virginia Rusk this $200,000, the first money from my writings, in the hope that that school can start a man and a woman along the way to ultimately becoming a Dean Rusk or a Virginia Rusk.

[At this point Secretary of State Rusk responded. Following his remarks the President resumed speaking.]

And now I would like for every man and woman in the Foreign Service and the embassies around the world in Foggy Bottom, every one who serves the State Department, to know that your President is very grateful and very appreciative and very deeply in your debt for your constant and your dedicated service.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:42 p.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. In his opening words he referred to Under Secretary of State Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, who formerly served as Attorney General, Mrs. Katzenbach, George W. Ball, former Under Secretary of State and former U.S.. Representative to the United Nations, and Mrs. Ball. During his remarks the President referred to, among others, William S. Gaud, Administrator of the Agency for International Development, Henry H. Fowler, Secretary of the Treasury, Representative Otto E. Passman of Louisiana, Chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, House Appropriations Committee, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Majority Leader of the Senate, Senators George McGovern of South Dakota, J. W. Fulbright of Arkansas, and Albert Gore of Tennessee, and AIC. Patrick J. Nugent, the President's son-in-law who was serving in the Air Force in Vietnam.

For the President's remarks at the Medal of Honor presentation ceremony to which he referred, see Item 688.

Secretary Rusk's remarks in response are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 115).

On January 20, 1969, President Johnson announced that he had awarded the Medal of Freedom to 20 distinguished Americans. Their names are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 137).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Freedom to Secretary of State Dean Rusk Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives