Before the President’s address at the Air Force Academy Commencement at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, the Nixon family watches a flyover by the Air Force’s Thunder Bird team.


The F-4E Phantoms of the Thunderbird team at Falcon Stadium.

On June 4, 1969, President Nixon addressed the Air Force Academy Commencement Exercises in Colorado Springs during a critical moment in the United States’ history. When RN inherited the Oval Office, the country was bitterly divided over the Vietnam War and according to many sources, morale in the United States military forces was at an all-time low. The entire video of the President’s speech can be viewed here:

In his twenty-six minute address, the President saluted the Air Force cadets for their years of study and training, and celebrated them for their pursuit of the military profession at a time when military programs were often ridiculed, nationalism frowned upon, and patriotism misunderstood.

But you are beginning your careers at a difficult time in military life. On a fighting front, you are asked to be ready to make unlimited sacrifice in a limited war. On the home front, you are under attack from those who question the need for a strong national defense, and indeed see a danger in the power of the defenders.

You are entering the military service of your country when the Nation’s potential adversaries abroad have never been stronger and when your critics at home have never been more numerous.

It is open season on the Armed Forces. Military programs are ridiculed as needless if not deliberate waste. The military profession is derided in some of the so-called best circles of America. Patriotism is considered by some to be a backward fetish of the uneducated and the unsophisticated. Nationalism is hailed and applauded as a panacea for the ills of every nation-except the United States of America.

The President warned the cadets of the difficult road ahead for them, that many would be derided for their commitment to a military profession. Yet, President Nixon assured them that under the facade of this criticism lay the purpose of their commitment–that is, to be at the vanguard of world leadership:

However, I must warn you that in the years to come you may hear your commitment to the American responsibility in the world derided as a form of militarism. It is important that you recognize that strawman issue for what it is, the outward sign of a desire by some to turn America inward and to have America turn away from greatness. I am not speaking about those responsible critics who reveal waste and inefficiency in our defense establishment, who demand clear answers on procurement problems, who want to make sure new weapons systems will truly add to our defense. On the contrary, you should be in the vanguard of that movement. Nor do I speak of those with sharp eyes and sharp pencils who are examining our post-Vietnam planning with other pressing national priorities in mind. I count myself as one of those.

He continued:

And I believe this above all: That this Nation shall continue to be a source of world leadership, a source of freedom’s strength, in creating a just world order that will bring an end to war.

Members of the graduating class and your colleagues in the Academy, a President shares a special bond with the men and women in the Nation’s Armed Forces. He feels that bond strongly at moments like these, facing all of you who have pledged your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor to the service of your country. He feels that bond most strongly when he presents the Medal of Honor to an 8-year-old boy who will never see his father again. Because of that bond, let me say this to you: In the past generation, since 1941, this Nation has paid for 14 years of peace with 14 years of war. The American war dead of this generation has been far greater than all of the preceding generations in America’s history. In terms of human suffering, this has been the costliest generation in the two centuries of our history.

Perhaps this is why my generation is so determined to pass on a different legacy. We want to redeem that sacrifice. We want to be remembered, not as the generation that suffered in war, but as the generation that was tempered in its fire for a great purpose: to make the kind of peace that the next generation will be able to keep.

This is a challenge worthy of the idealism which I know motivates every man who will receive his diploma today.

I am proud to have served in the Armed Forces of this Nation in a war which ended before the members of this class were born.

It is my deepest hope and my belief that each of you will be able to look back on your military career with pride, not because of the wars in which you have fought, but because of the peace and freedom which your service will make possible for America and the world.