June 11, 1965: Remarks at the Manned Space Flight Center
Mr. Webb, Dr. Dryden, Dr. Seamans, my fellow Americans:
Monday was a very happy day for you and for the Nation, but this opportunity to visit with all the members of America's space team is no anticlimax for me.
So, to each of you who contributed to the success of America's most historic peacetime adventure, I am proud and I am privileged to say to each and to all of you: Well done.
The television commentators and the newspaper writers have all had a good bit to say about the sterling qualities and virtues of Major McDivitt and Major White. Of course, I have detected a certain greater objectivity in the remarks made publicly by both of their lovely wives.
Be that as it may, what impresses and gratifies me most about these two heroes-and all of the other astronauts--is the quality of personal modesty and humility.
I haven't yet met a man who has not come down from space wanting to give more credit to all the men and women on the ground than he would accept for himself up there.
Ed and Jim are no exceptions.
I invited them to bring their families to the ranch tomorrow, or the next day, because I wanted to present both of them with a token of their country's great esteem and respect. But I learned last night from the Administrator, Mr. Webb, that both men felt a ceremony at the ranch would focus too much credit on them and exclude all of you who supported their flight here so impressively at this new NASA Spacecenter in Houston.
So, we have arranged our plans gladly to come here--with one proviso. A little later, next week or the early part of the following week, we expect to see the McDivitts and their three children, and the Whites and their two children, and the manager of the Gemini program, Mr. Mathews and his family, in Washington at the White House.
At that time we're going to pay them the honor all of you know they deserve, no matter what they say about it.
But today, as I said to you when we were talking a few hours ago, I promised to bring these two heroes a little token. Well, I am going to keep my promise. I am nominating Major McDivitt and Major White for promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel for their spectacular achievements on behalf of all the people of their country and the free world. And I am saying, also, that that is something you can eat as well as wear.
Incidentally, I might announce today that Maj. Gordon Cooper will be promoted on July 15th to the rank of lieutenant colonel. And I am not going to forget the fourth Air Force astronaut to make an orbital flight, so I complete my announcement today by nominating Maj. Gus Grissom for promotion to lieutenant colonel, also.
When our manned space program began, many said about space what men probably said 500 years before about America itself-that the environment was hostile, that the climate was no good, that there was nothing there worth the trip anyway. These two young Americans have changed that conception forever.
All people have a new sense of thrill, and excitement, and anticipation about space exploration because of the flight of Gemini 4.
The joy and the thrill and the exhilaration that Ed White experienced on his walk from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic ran through the veins of us all. Our attitudes about space will never entirely be the same again.
And let me make one other observation. I read with mixed emotions yesterday that Major White had decided to claim this State of his birth as his home State. Well, as President, I am supposed to be neutral on matters of State pride, but the glimmer of pride I allow myself to feel is subdued just a bit. I know some will say that as soon as Americans got themselves up into space a Texan had to go and put his foot in it.
Seriously, I hope that the clear and obvious meaning and promise of this great adventure, which all of you have really shared, will not be lost upon mankind.
Only a few years ago, this great Nation was unmistakably behind in space. Abroad--and at home--some prophesied that America would remain behind, that our system had failed, that the brightness of our future had dimmed and would grow darker. But no such prophecies are heard today.
Proceeding openly--openly admitting our failures, openly sharing and offering to share our successes--the United States of America has proceeded with the determination and the zeal that burns in the hearts of men who love liberty. And, today, we know that America's success is very great indeed.
All that we have accomplished in space-all that we may accomplish in days and years to come--we stand ready to share for the benefit of all mankind. Whether we stand first in these endeavors matters to our momentary pride but not to our continuing and permanent purpose. The race in which we of this generation are determined to be first is the race for peace in the world.
In the labors of peace--as in the explorations of space--let no man in any land doubt for a moment that we have the will, and the determination, and the talent, and the resources required to stay the course and see those labors through.
So, I would end this week as I began it last Sunday morning, saying to all nations and all peoples, East and West, that we of America--a strong, a confident, a proud, and a peaceful America--invite you to open your curtains, come through the doorways and the walls that you have built, and join with us to walk together toward peace for all people on this earth.
Thank you, Colonel McDivitt, and thank you, Colonel White.
I just want to say this, before I look at your Center, that I conducted the first investigations in the space field as a Member of the Senate. And as I looked out over this group today and this great installation that just did not exist those few years ago, I thought of what Jim Webb and Dr. Dryden had said 4 years ago, or more, when they left my office the first day they were to undertake this assignment. I saw Dr. Seamans and Dr. Gilruth here today and all of the thousands of people who have participated in this great adventure.
You don't know the gratitude I feel to each of you and how proud I am of all of you.