The President and First Lady waiving goodbye from the South Lawn

News crews filmed the small crowd, including Republican and Democratic Congressmen, the Vice President and Mrs. Agnew, and the President’s two daughters, Tricia and Julie, which had all gathered around a single microphone that stood on the South Lawn between the White House and Marine One. It was February 12, 1972 at 10:10 AM eastern time.

Watching from home, one could see the President shaking the hands of people in the crowd with Pat by his side as he made his way to the microphone. Less than a year ago on July 15, 1971, President Nixon had interrupted regular television programming with the groundbreaking announcement that he was accepting an invitation to visit the People’s Republic of China. Now the President was announcing his departure.

President Nixon spoke briefly. After thanking his supporters who came to see him off, and those watching at home he described the purpose of his journey to China.

“As we look to the future, we must recognize that the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the United States have had great differences. We will have differences in the future. But what we must do is to find a way to see that we can have differences without being enemies in war. If we can make progress toward that goal on this trip, the world will be a much safer world and the chance particularly for all of those young children over there to grow up in a world of peace will be infinitely greater.”

In the President’s own words, he was “under no illusions that twenty years of hostility between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America [were] going to be swept away by one week of talks.” This undertaking was, as President Nixon wrote in Memoirs, “a voyage of philosophical discovery as uncertain, and in some respects as perilous, as the voyages of geographic discovery of a much earlier time.”