One Month, Two Journeys, and What People Said About Them


    This month marks the anniversaries of two of the greatest events of President Nixon’s first administration. 43 years before this July 15th, President Nixon announced his intention to visit China – a dramatic beginning of one of the most important diplomatic ventures of the twentieth century. 45 years before this July 20th, the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission took one great leap for mankind – the lunar landing mission accomplished, as President Kennedy had promised, “before the end of this decade.”

    Today, public opinion hails both the journey to China and the journey to the moon as among the proudest accomplishments in American history. The risks which both ventures entailed have paid off for future generations. The Shanghai Communique led to a more open relationship which now benefits both American and Chinese societies. The Apollo missions made technology such as the computer chip commercially available.

    At the time, however, people across the globe delivered an enormous range of opinions to the White House in letters and telegrams. The letters ranged from eloquent to tactless, from celebratory to condemning. Altogether, they provide a fascinating portrayal of the world in 1969 and 1971.

    Italian Rainbows and a Circus Blessing

    The President received many letters of approval concerning the China initiative – not just from American citizens, but from a diverse array of people abroad. Improved relationships between the USA and China would lessen tensions throughout the world.


    The former mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pira, offered his succinct and lyrical approval in this July 17 telegram.


    A hopeful July 17 telegram from Paula Busch, director of the Berlin Circus.


    In this July 17 telegram, Australian activist J. B. Webb’s pun refers to the famous Chinese economic and social campaign.


    A July 17 telegram from Asian-American business entrepreneur, Chin Nho.

    Over the Moon With Praise

    Americans and foreign people sent President Nixon a stream of admiring letters in the wake of the first successful moon landing.


    A proud July 20 letter from a naturalized citizen, Thaddeus A. Zagorewicz.


    This July 20 letter of congratulations from the mayor of San Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, takes a political turn. He refers to the “Soccer War” which was just breaking out between El Salvador and Honduras at this time.

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    A sweet July 12 letter and drawing from Biagio and Frank Arangio from Florida.

      Distinguished Service Medal: General John P. McConnell


        President Nixon presents the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal to General John P. McConnell, July 17 1969.

        The Air Force Distinguished Service Medal recognizes exceptional meritorious achievements in a duty of great responsibility. General John P. McConnell, who began his military career with the Air Force under the Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces) and retired as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of staff to the U.S. Air Force, achieved the merits of exceptional duty.

        On July 17 1969, President Nixon presented the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal to General McConnell, stating that “on this occasion we think of the service he has rendered, in war and in peace.”

        That service included 40 years in the Air Force, serving in key positions in Europe and Asia. During World War II, General McConnell was chief of staff of the China-Burma-India Air Force and later a senior air staff member at Air Command Southeast Asia. He participated in aerial operations against the Japanese in Burma.

        After serving a year as Senior Air Adviser to the Chinese government in 1946, General McConnell became Chief of the Reserve and National Guard Division. A year later, he was appointed Chief of the Air Force’s Civilian Components Group. In 1950, he began his time in Europe, traveling to England to serve as Deputy Commander and subsequently Commander of the Third Air Force.

        He returned to the United States and assumed a four-year tour as Director of Plans at the Headquarters of SAC, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. During his time there, General McConnell was promoted to Commander of SAC’s Second Air Force and later to Vice Commander in Chief.

        The General once again returned to Europe serving as Deputy Commander in Chief of the United States European Command in 1962. It was then that he was promoted to General of four-star rank.

        In August of 1964, General McConnell was appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and shortly after assumed his position as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. He served in this capacity until his retirement in July of 1969, upon which President Nixon found this occasion to honor General McConnell.

        The President emphasized General McConnell’s service in peace, believing that his “whole life, his service in the Joint Chiefs…bears out what General Twining once said, that if our air forces are never used, they have served their finest purpose.”

        And that is what General McConnell served his country for, in the duty of great responsibility for maintaining U.S. military strength, and “maintaining it for peace.”  

          Honoring the Apollo 11 Mission


            Apollo XI aims skyward into the realm of heavens, July 16 1969.

            Apollo 11 Launch

            Following the successful Translunar Injection of Apollo 11 as it exited Earth’s orbit, President Nixon released a proclamation calling for a National Day of Participation Honoring the Apollo 11 Mission, to be observed on July 21 1971.

            The proclamation, below, reads:

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            The President’s decision to issue this proclamation came at the recommendation of former NASA astronaut Colonel Frank Borman. In a July 12 option memo, Borman strongly recommended the concept of having the President issue a statement shortly after the launch, wishing the astronauts well on their journey to the moon. President Nixon ultimately

            The option memo, which also lists other recommendations for the President on “Launch Day,” can be read below:

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            Colonel Borman followed up his July 12 recommendation with one two days later, proposing that the Star Spangled Banner not be played in conjunction with the planned split screen television presentation while the crew was on the lunar surface. It so happened that the country’s national anthem was not played during the television broadcast, demonstrating President Nixon’s confidence in Colonel Borman’s expert opinion.

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            It was only fitting then, that President Nixon watched the Apollo 11 launch with Colonel Borman in his little office at the White House.


            Colonel Frank Borman joins President Nixon while the two watch the launch of Apollo 11.

              7.15.71 – The Nixon Shock

                The term “Nixon Shock” is generally made in reference to the August 15, 1971 speech in which President Nixon announced he would take the nation off the gold standard. But only one month prior there was an earlier Nixon shock, one which sparked lasting change around the world, and caused The Washington Post to write, “If Mr. Nixon had revealed he was going to the moon, he could not have flabbergasted his world audience more.”

                On this day in 1971, President Nixon announced on live television from California that he would be visiting the People’s Republic of China the following the year. The Communist state had been effectively closed off from the West for 25 years.

                The President’s handwritten notes from that day, before delivering his announcement:

                China announcement RN handwriting

                “It was such a shock,” longtime CBS anchor Dan Rather said, “that President Nixon, the quintessential Cold Warrior, was changing colors, as it were.”

                The shock of the announcement unleashed a barrage of opinions, both in favor of the trip and against it, with most somewhere in between. The presidential visit the following February, however, would produce one of the most lasting shifts in the international order in generations — one that reverberates ever stronger to this day.

                A video of the statement made 43 years ago today from television studios in Burbank:

                  President Nixon Announces Trip to China

                    China Announcement

                    President Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrive in Burbank, California for the day’s major announcement.

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                    President Nixon prepares to deliver his groundbreaking announcement in an NBC studio in Burbank.

                    When Henry Kissinger touched down in San Clemente  on July 13 of 1971 following his world tour, he and President Nixon met immediately to discuss the National Security Adviser’s secret meeting with Premier Chou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China.

                    “Henry Kissinger returned there, immediately went in to see the President–frankly hardly anybody part of the White House staff knew anything except that Henry was getting back from Vietnam,” recalled Larry Higby, a former staff assistant to the President. “There was some negotiation and some consultation, and then the President, without saying why, said that he requested time on NBC to address the nation on a very important matter.”

                    On the night of July 15 1971, news networks across the nation prepared for the address, for which they were told held very important significance.

                    “Good evening. President Nixon tonight has flown from his home at San Clemente to a television studio here in Los Angeles to deliver what the White House terms is a major statement,” opened Tom Jarriel of ABC at 7:30pm.

                    Since 1967, Richard Nixon made clear his belief that China, and the rest of the world’s attention to China, must change if the threat of future confrontation is to be avoided. He foresaw the dangers posed by a country with one-fifth the world’s population remaining in isolation, breeding its hate for the outside world. RN never reneged on this point, having through his presidency held steady to the conviction that China needed to open its doors.

                    “Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors,” wrote Nixon in China After Vietnam, a 1967 Foreign Affairs article.

                    Four years later, in an address to Midwestern media executives in Kansas City on July 6 1971, President Nixon stated: “That is the reason why I felt that it was essential that this Administration take the first steps toward ending the isolation of Mainland China from the world community…Mainland China, outside the world community, completely isolated, with its leaders not in communication with world leaders, would be a danger to the whole world that would be unacceptable.”

                    On July 15 of the same month, in a Burbank NBC studio, President Nixon stunned the world with the announcement that he had sent his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, on a secret diplomatic mission to China to commence talks with Premier Chou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China. Furthermore, the results of these initial talks was an agreement for a presidential trip to China. In a statement simultaneously being announced in Beijing, the President read:

                    Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou Enlai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

                    Watch President Nixon’s short but profound announcement below:

                    Max Lerner, syndicated American journalist and ordinarily a vocal Nixon opponent, summed up aptly the general domestic reaction to President Nixon’s impromptu announcement: “The politics of surprise leads through the Gates of Astonishment into the Kingdom of Hope.” That hope being the framework for a future generation of peace. Of course, speculation about the President’s trip to China undoubtedly fueled itself. RN addressed these concerns by reiterating his administration’s policy with China:

                    Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends. It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.

                    President Nixon’s long held conviction that diplomatic relations be established with Communist China was becoming reality. As the world watched in astonished anticipation, RN successfully planted the seeds of an attainable peace.


                      The New Nixon Archives

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