Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's Toast and Responses at a Dinner Honoring Members of the Space Program

December 09, 1968

Mr. and Mrs. Webb, Apollo astronauts, Vice President and Mrs. Humphrey, Chairman Teague, Secretary and Mrs. Clifford, Members of the Congress, distinguished members of the Space Administration, and guests:

Tonight is a very proud and memorable occasion. And for Chairman Miller of the Space Committee and Senator and Mrs. Monroney and others, I say for them and for me, we are so happy that we could have all of you here in the White House with us. Because assembled here in this room, at this time, are some of the great heroes of the age in which we live--heroes who have given America some of our finest hours.

The great story of our country in flight and in space is represented here tonight, from Colonel Lindbergh, the "Lone Eagle," who was a one-man space program in his day, to our brave astronauts, who in 8 years have spanned three generations of manned space travel--Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

Among you, you hold records that have now become legends--most missions in space, most man-hours in space, flights that are the highest, the longest, and the toughest that any men have ever made. And these are all testimony to your courage and to your professional skill, to your Nation's vision, and to its technology and its determination. And they are a testament to the ability of the man who has directed your efforts so long and so well.

I asked you to come here tonight in the twilight of this administration, so I could pay the respect and the honor and the affection that I felt for the man who has directed your effort and directed it so well, and so that I could express my personal admiration and respect for you.

In January I will have been here some 37 years. And I am not retiring, but I am going back to the job I had before I came here. But in all of that period, in the hundreds of laws on which I have answered the roll call, the dozens and dozens and dozens of bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored or amended or defeated, there is not a single one that gives me more pride than the Space Act that came out of our hearings following Sputnik I.

And out of that act came recognition of great Congressmen who are here tonight-I can't call all of their names, but I see a Republican over in the corner of the room, Congressman Fulton, and I see Democrats over here, I see Colonel Lindbergh, I see-well, I started to say Colonel, but I guess I ought to say General Jackie Cochran. I see all of these pioneers, who through the years have kept our country out in front.

But we came here tonight to pay honor to the astronauts and to the Administrator, who has carried the load for them and has paved the way for them. Jim Webb has served us all with courage and confidence, and with a North Carolina vision, and most important--judgment.

He laid and he executed the plans for the pioneering and the exploration of outer space that this country has done. With the same devotion with which he once defended America in a Marine uniform, he led the effort to open its new horizons in space.

And in that effort, the beloved Vice President, who is Chairman of the Space Council, and its Secretary, Mr. Welsh, have been valued allies and co-patriots.

So, here tonight in the dining room of the White House, Mrs. Johnson and I want to express to you this Nation's gratitude. And I propose to award to Mr. Webb the Presidential Medal of Freedom--the highest civilian honor that a President can bestow on any individual whose work advances a great cause.

Mr. Webb, if you will come up here and join us, I will permit you to be associated with a lovely lady whom you have met somewhere before.

[Reading] The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom to James E. Webb: A most distinguished public administrator, he has been a farsighted and forceful leader of this Nation in the pioneer exploration of outer space, opening new frontiers of discovery and progress for the American people.

Signed, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Jim and Patsy, the space adventure is going to miss Jim Webb.

But this country is also blessed tonight with the good fortune of having a most able man to succeed you--Tom Paine, stepping into your shoes. And I salute Mr. Paine.

Now, before the countdown for Apollo 8 begins, I want to say this to the men of its crew--Colonel Borman, Captain Lovell, Major Anders--we pray for you, we think of you, we wish you Godspeed, we wish you a safe return, and the only persons in the world who are going to be more concerned about you than I am are the girls who wait for your return.

Our hearts will be with you every mile of the way. I have never seen that takeoff, that Dr. von Braun has told me so much about, that I am not the most frightened man in this country. I have never seen a landing, from the time we picked up John Glenn until the most recent mission, when I am not the proudest man, I think, in this country.

So, please know that our prayers are with you, our hearts are with you, and we will follow you every second of the way. I hope none of you take cold. [Laughter] And I hope your mission is completed in time so that none of you miss a bank directors meeting. [More laughter] All of you are invited to join us to watch the deer and spend a little time with them when you return.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you tonight to join me in a toast to the brave and dedicated men of our space program, as well as to their patient and wonderful and understanding wives.

And now, if you will be seated, Texas will yield to North Carolina.

Mr. WEBB. Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson: I thought from the word I received from the White House and saw in the newspapers that maybe an astronaut and I might have an opportunity to propose a toast to the President, but little did I think that I would ever receive this medal at any time. I thought that I had retired with sufficient anonymity to have the awarding of medals in NASA delayed for a year after retirement of any senior official, and this was not to be, as we found out when the President received us in Texas at the LBJ Ranch.

But I certainly thought that at least was the end, at least until after the passage of a year, let us say, and proper appraisal could be made of the contributions of all of those people who have, in fact, devoted so much of their lives to this program as man reaches out from the earth into this great solar system and universe.

So, I must confess, Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, that I am completely unprepared to express my appreciation. But I would like to thank both of you for your understanding of what the men and women in the space program have tried to accomplish for this country, for the great effort that you both have made to go out to our space installations and see for yourselves the importance of what was being done and the fact that, indeed, man was entering a new era through this program.

I do want to thank you for this wonderful occasion which shows again your continuing deep interest in NASA and the manned space flight program.

The challenge of space is large and so is NASA. In all such large human endeavors, organized institutional efforts are essential, and we know, in the words of Emerson, that they are "the lengthened shadow of one man."

We in NASA know, Mr. President, that you are the man of which our civilian space effort, conducted for the benefit of all mankind, is the lengthened shadow.

It is an interesting fact that this Nation has already had three space age Presidents, and in this brief 10 years has put to use three generations of spacecraft in every major field.

In the area of manned space flight, we have seen the program go forward from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo.

Less well remembered is the unmanned Lunar series, Ranger, Surveyor, and Orbiter, that made famous that TV phrase "Live from the Moon." We sometimes forget that we know much more about our sister planets, Mars and Venus, and our sun, and that vast expanse between them that holds the solar system because we have launched three generations of deep space probes, Pioneer, Explorer, and Mariner

In fact, it was Mariner 4 that reported Mars to be so forbidding that you, Mr. President, in reporting to the world from this White House, could make the point that human life as we know it may be unique to this Earth and so all the more precious.

Today, we use as routine knowledge about our own Earth because Tiros, Essa, and Ogo, these three generations of earth-studying satellites have studied it from space.

Now, I have the strongly held view that in the kind of world we live in, our Nation needs this kind of success in this kind of endeavor. As we look to the future and consider what makes for success, we can see that it was your legislative leadership, Mr. President, and skill that provided a success framework in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

In 1961, large goals were set. And here again, it was your executive leadership that drove us forward. But even with a first-class legislative foundation and large goals, success could only come through continued strong commitment and support. That you have always provided through every phase of each space age generation.

So, it is my happy privilege to propose that we rise and drink this toast to our great space age patron and leader, the President of the United States.

To the President.

THE PRESIDENT. Everyone in this room and the citizens of this country who have supported this effort have every right to our admiration and our gratitude, particularly to the men who have directed the program, and you astronauts who have executed it.

But to the men who built the instruments which carry you safely and speedily through all of these hours of uncertainty, to the industrial genius that has made this possible, all America is in your debt.

To Mr. McDonnell, to Mr. Douglas, to Mr. Atwood, to those who preceded them, to those who have followed, all Americans feel in your debt. And we salute you, sirs.

CAPT. WALTER M. SCHIRRA. Mr. President, as one of those who has used this equipment, who has had the advantage of exploiting, enjoying, the technology of this country, I think it is appropriate that one of us who has used this make a few remarks with your permission.

I think we should be proud of the fact that this country is capable of doing what we are setting out to do next with Apollo 8, to go to the moon and return. That remark you made very clearly, "and return"--one that we make very clearly each time we bring it up.

We hope, after that mission, to prove that we have two vehicles that can succeed in getting to the moon, landing on the moon, exploring the moon, and returning to earth.

With this, we have succeeded in devising a means of transportation which will take us anywhere if we are willing to take the time.

I have been asked and many of us have been, "Why are we going to the moon?" I don't like to answer, "Because it is there." I would rather say it is because we know we can do it, that this country is that big. Your acknowledging of Mr. "Mac," Lee Atwood, Don Douglas, and Wernher, and all of those who have participated, gives us the confidence that we need to realize that we can afford to continue these goals and that we will succeed in meeting them.

I would like to make a toast to all of these gentlemen, as well as to the President of the United States, our Commander in Chief.

THE PRESIDENT. Secretary Clifford is getting ready to retire. We want to thank you for leading the department that has produced so many great men, but especially for those in the services who are present here tonight. They will all receive their promotions on the execution of their mission. I would like to say the same thing to Jim Webb. He has already reached the highest place in the Government that I can promote him to.

A year ago I was sitting one evening troubling over a big thick budget--that high-that Jim Webb cut his teeth on many, many years ago. The man who had formulated all of these figures and these programs through the years said to me, when I was probably cutting the space budget a little deeper than he thought I should, "You are now working on the best administrator that this Government has ever produced."

So, you just can't go higher up the tree than that.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 10:26 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to James E. Webb, former National Aeronautics and Space Administrator, who retired in October 1968, Mrs. Webb, the 23 Apollo astronauts, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Mrs. Humphrey, Representative Olin E. Teague of Texas, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and member of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Clark M. Clifford, Secretary of Defense, and Mrs. Clifford.

During his remarks the President referred to Representative George P. Miller of California, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Senator A. S. Mike Monroney of Oklahoma, Mrs. Monroney, Charles A. Lindbergh, who in 1927 made the first transatlantic flight, Representative James G. Fulton of Pennsylvania, aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, Edward C. Welsh, Executive Secretary, National Aeronautics and Space Council, Thomas O. Paine, Acting NASA Administrator, Col. Frank Borman, Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., and Maj. William A. Anders, the Apollo 8 astronauts, Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director, George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., Col. John H. Glenn, Jr., former astronaut who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth, J. S. McDonnell, Chairman, and Donald W. Douglas, Jr., President, McDonnell Douglas Corp., and J. Lee Atwood, President, North American Rockwell Corp.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's Toast and Responses at a Dinner Honoring Members of the Space Program Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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