Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1970

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Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: April 18, 1970

122
Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Astronauts in Honolulu.
April 18, 1970

CAPTAIN LOVELL, it is my proud honor on behalf of a grateful and proud nation to welcome you and your colleagues back to the United States of America.

On this occasion I am very proud to speak not just for 200 million Americans, but for people around this world. We have received over 100 messages from foreign governments—from the Soviet Union, from Poland, other countries behind the Iron Curtain, from countries in the free world. This is truly a welcome from all the people of the world to three very brave men.

I recall, Captain, that when I spoke to you on the phone, you said that you regretted that you were unable to complete your mission. I hereby declare that this was a successful mission, a great mission on behalf of your country.

Your mission served the cause of the space program because of what you did. It means that future manned flights to space which will be made by our space program will be safer. Your mission served the cause of international understanding and good will.

I think I can truthfully say that never before in the history of man have more people watched together, prayed together, and rejoiced together at your safe return, than on this occasion.

You did not reach the moon but you reached the hearts of millions of people on earth by what you did.

Finally, your mission served your country. It served to remind us all of our proud heritage as a nation; to remind us that in this age of technicians and scientific marvels, that the individual still counts; that in a crisis, the character of a man or of men will make the difference.

As we look at what you have done, we realize that greatness comes not simply in triumph but in adversity. It has been said that adversity introduces a man to himself. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you three men who have been introduced to themselves as much as anybody in the whole history of men.

Now I have the proud honor to present the highest civilian award that can be presented in the United States of America, the Medal of Freedom.
I will now read the citation:

To James Arthur Lovell, Jr., to Fred Wallace Haise, Jr., to John Leonard Swigert, Jr.:
The citation on each of your medals willread as follows:

Adversity brings out the character of a man. Confronted suddenly and unexpectedly with grave peril in the far reaches of space, he demonstrated a calm courage and quiet heroism that stand as an example to men everywhere. His safe return is a triumph of the human spirit—of those special qualities of man himself we rely on when machines fall, and that we rely on also for those things that machines cannot do.

From the start, the exploration of space has been hazardous adventure. The voyage of Apollo 13 dramatized its risks. The men of Apollo 13, by their poise and skill under the most intense kind of pressure, epitomized the character that accepts danger and surmounts it. Theirs is the spirit that built America. With gratitude and admiration, America salutes their spirit and their achievement.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I think we would also want to pay our respects to three very brave women, two wives, one mother, and a very brave father. Would they please stand?

Before I ask Captain Lovell to respond on behalf of this great crew, I have one personal matter that I want to mention to Mr. Swigert. I noticed that he had a little problem about filing his income tax return.1 Don’t worry about it. I happen to know the collector. [Laughter]
1On April 12, 1970, while enroute to the moon, command module pilot Swigert told Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston that he had forgotten to file his income tax return, due April 15.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:41 p.m. at the Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii. Captain Lovell responded as follows:

Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

Needless to say, it is a very proud day for the three of us to be back here, to be back on earth again. We are very happy to be here. We had some very trying moments in the last week.

I can recall about a year and a half ago when we were coming home on Apollo 8, and we looked back on earth, and we had mentioned then that the earth was really the only place we had to go to. It was the only place that had color. It was the only place we could see in the universe that had life, that had warmth and was home to us.

But I was safely tucked in a nice, warm spacecraft with all systems functioning, and I really wasn’t too worried. In Apollo 13 on the way home the situation was a little different. I recall the same words I had said a year and a half ago, and I wondered just when and how we would get back.

But I think the secret was the fact that we have in America something which has always been part of us and that is teamwork. Just as Fred and Jack and I tried to work as a team up there, we had hundreds of people on the ground that really saw to it that we got back home safely. It was these people who gave us instructions, who tracked us, who watched our systems, that we owe a debt of gratitude to. So, on behalf of the three of us, we are glad to be home and we are glad to be part of America.

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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "122 Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Astronauts in Honolulu.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1970 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168 370. Original Sources, accessed September 19, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKK82PPQVH6LXBG.

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "122 Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Astronauts in Honolulu." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1970, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, page 370. Original Sources. 19 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKK82PPQVH6LXBG.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '122 Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Astronauts in Honolulu.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1970. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp.370. Original Sources, retrieved 19 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKK82PPQVH6LXBG.