America will celebrate Presidents Day, Monday. Four commanders in chief have visited Redstone Arsenal throughout history.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the first presidential trip to the Arsenal in September 1960 to dedicate the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. Greeted on the Redstone airstrip by Wernher von Braun, Eisenhower spoke of the amazing strides for humanity accomplished on post.
“All that we have already accomplished, and all in the future that we shall achieve, is the outgrowth not of a soulless, barren technology, nor of a grasping state imperialism,” Eisenhower said. “Rather it is the product of unrestrained human talents and energy restlessly probing for the betterment of humanity, by courage to overcome disappointment and failure, by free ranging imagination, by insistence upon excellence, with none of it ordered by a domineering bureaucracy.
“In this fact is proof once again of that hard work, toughness of spirit, and self-reliant enterprise are not mere catchwords of an era dead and gone. They remain the imperatives for the fulfillment of America’s dream.”
Less than two years after Eisenhower’s visit, President
John F. Kennedy, accompanied by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, arrived at the Arsenal to check on the status of the space program in September 1962. As the only Army post with a NASA facility located on it, according to Kaylene Hughes, historian in the AMCOM Historical Office, the Arsenal was a draw, especially as the space program began to build steam. The following May Kennedy returned to the Arsenal for a public address for Armed Forces Day. The address was the first presidential speech made at the Arsenal.
“All of us, whether we are doing one thing or the other, whether we are in Huntsville, Washington, D.C., wherever we may be, all of us are committed to a great objective, and that is to see the United States of America, of which we are proud, not only meet its responsibilities here at home, not only provide a better life for its people, but also continue to be, as it has been since 1945, the keystone of the arch of freedom all around the world,” Kennedy said.
President Richard Nixon landed at Redstone and went on to address 30,000 attendees at the February 1974 Honor America Day sponsored by the Sertonia Club at Huntsville Big Spring International Park. Declaring Huntsville the “first city in America devoted to America,” Nixon commended the city and the event, which emphasized not what was wrong with America, but what was right with it.
“We live in one of those periods of American history where the trend is toward pessimism and division,” Nixon said. “That often occurs at the end of a war. We have a lot to be thankful for. For the first time in 12 years, this country is at peace, with the world and our prisoners are at home where they belong.”
President George H.W. Bush visited June 20, 1990. After attending a Republican campaign luncheon, Bush stopped at the Arsenal briefly to speak to Marshall Space Flight Center. Calling on Congress to provide the necessary funds for future space exploration, Bush challenged America to plant an American flag on Mars by 2019.
“Being first in space is not just America’s dream, it is indeed our destiny,” Bush said. “Let us continue to dream, for our children, for ourselves and for all mankind.”
Besides the four presidents who have visited – Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Bush – Hughes mentions that Gerald Ford stopped here while serving in Congress as a U.S. representative from Michigan. Ford went on to serve as president from Aug. 9, 1974, to Jan. 20, 1977.