General Hyten: I’m not going to read from a script tonight, we’re just going to have a conversation, and that conversation is going to start a number of ways because I know right now as it approaches 9 o’clock that at least half of the people in the audience can’t wait for the end of this speech. I’ll tell you a secret, right now I can’t wait for the end of the speech either, but probably not for the reason you think. The reason I can’t wait until the end of the speech, because I’ve got a punch line at the end of this speech that you’re not going to believe. Because every once in a while something happens in life that’s like magic, and it just can’t be true, but it’s so true that it is and it ties everything together that I want to talk about tonight. Because what I want to talk about tonight are heroes.
When I first started wanting to talk about heroes, I started thinking about the heroes that would be here, and my biggest hero is right here, my wife Laura. If I start talking about her, I’ll never get off stage. And then I look at the people in the front 20 or 30 tables up here, and if I started talking about my heroes, there’s about 40 or 50 of them in this room and I’ll never get off stage. So, I decided that I wouldn’t talk about them, but I would talk about the heroes that are no longer with us.
The Chief had a moment this morning that brought tears to my eyes, and that was the passing of a hero no longer with us, Lt. Col. Dick Cole. And I’m not going to talk about him because I’ll start crying again, but I’ll just say Godspeed [Lt.] Col. Cole. Thanks for showing us the way. Holy cow.
My first heroes are my mom and dad. They’re still with us, thank goodness, so I won’t talk about them.
But let me talk about my first heroes. There they are. That’s my great grandmother and my great grandfather on my mom’s side. John Earl Hamilton and his wife Maddie. John Earl, that’s my name. I was named after my great grandfather. He grew up in Michigan and Canada, kind of going back and forth across the border. He was larger than life. He was about, an Irishman, 6’5”, 250 pounds, red hair. In that picture he’s 80 years-old. That picture is 1969. It’s kind of a magic date this week, isn’t it? 1969. A lot of amazing things happened this week. But on July 16, 1969, something happened. On July 16, 1969, I got in the car with my parents and my brother and sister and we drove north from Alabama to Fort Huron, Michigan, to visit with my great grandfather. So, my great grandfather, I subsequently learned, made a very interesting life by being a gambler, a bootlegger, a builder, a horseman, a rancher, pretty much whatever he needed to do to take care of my great grandmother. And there was nobody that could challenge my great grandfather with the exception of the woman in that picture who could make him do whatever she wanted him to do.
I’ll tell you one lesson I learned from my great grandfather, and it happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t know why I remember that date, but somehow that date sticks in my mind because that date, that morning with my great grandfather, my Papa, I was playing cards with him. I told you he made his living as a gambler at one point, right? I didn’t know it at the time. I was 10 years-old.
So, I’m playing cards with him and I beat him. And let’s just say even at 10 years-old I had a little bit of an attitude. So, I was talking trash to him. And not a very smart move. Even at 80 years-old, he was a whole lot bigger and stronger than me. So, he said John, go find a deck of cards. So I did. I went and grabbed a deck of cards, and to this day I don’t know how he did this, but he said give me the deck of cards. He looked at the deck of cards and he said okay, now shuffle the cards. So he takes these giant, giant hands -- twice as big as my hands, and he shuffles the cards a couple of times, and then he said, so we’ve been teaching you how to play poker. What’s the best hand in poker? I said well, Papa, it’s four aces. Now I was wrong, but I’m ten, so give me a break. So, four aces. So you want four aces? He said all right. So he takes the cards and his fingers are shaking, his thumbs are shaking and he does -- whsst -- and he shows me one ace. He takes the cards again, hands shaking, shows me the second ace. Goes third ace, fourth aces. He says there are your four aces. I go how did you do that? because I’m literally two feet from his hands as I’m watching him deal the cards and he deals me four aces, and he says I can deal you whatever you want.
The lesson I want you to learn right now, and this is not the lesson you would expect somebody to tell us who just dealt four aces. He said, the lesson I want you to learn is every room that you go into in your life there’s going to be somebody better than you in that room, and there’s going to be somebody smarter than you in that room, and it would be really important if you find out who that person is, and it would be even better if you made friends with him. Pretty interesting lesson to learn.
There’s my great grandfather’s life. Look at that. He was there for the invention of the telephone, for the invention of the photograph, the invention of the light bulb, for the Wright Brothers’ flight, for the automobile, for the nuclear bomb, for breaking the sound barrier, for the rocket, for the invention of the television. He was there for all those inventions. He saw that all of his life. And I would sit at his feet and he’d tell me those stories.
The evening of July 20, 1969, I sat on the floor in his living room in Fort Huron, Michigan, and watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I looked up at my great grandfather and he had a tear coming down his eye. It was like magic to me, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I knew exactly who I wanted to be and exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an astronaut because that was the greatest thing I could imagine doing. But unfortunately, I was blind. And NASA, for whatever reason, did not take blind astronauts. So, I joined the Air Force where blind people do great.
But think about July 20, 1969. What a magic day. We’re coming up on 50 years from that day and it changed my life because it put me on a path. It also, just a month later, I got to meet the next big hero of my life who is no longer with us. Everybody know that picture? Everybody in this room should know that picture. That picture is Wernher von Braun, standing in front of the Saturn 5. Want to see another great picture? Holy cow, there’s John, Scott and Katherine Hyten standing in front of the same Saturn 5 the same day! Is that crazy? I’m right there. My brother finally found that picture. Because in August of 1969 I got to meet von Braun a couple of times because I was a good student in math and good student in science, and so my teacher said there’s an event coming up and you need to go meet von Braun. And in my mind I know where that event was but my brother found the program and it wasn’t the place where my mind told me it was. But he found the program, found the picture, found all that stuff. But you want to know what I was doing?
Everybody know who those people are? That’s Grissom, White and Chaffee. Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee, Apollo 1. They died in the accident in January 1967. And if you want to talk about going fast in this country, just think about January 1967, the horrible tragedy that was Apollo 1 and those three great Americans perished in the capsule of Apollo 1. Look at their faces. Amazing people.
But you know what? Amazing things happened because of that. It’s interesting, if you look back at Congress, and I was talking to Tom Stafford last night and he was telling me the story about the accident of Apollo 1, not knowing I was going to talk about it tonight, but he pointed out to me that son of a gun, Congress after that accident brought up a proposal to cancel the Apollo program, to cancel the mission because we just killed three astronauts, and it’s clearly too dangerous and we can’t get there from here. That was a proposal on the floor of Congress. He told me the Senators that were involved, and they’re very famous Senators, I won’t mention them tonight, because that’s not the way history turned out. History went a different direction. And from the deaths of those three great Americans, in two and a half years we went and landed on the moon on a different rocket than they died on. That’s just remarkable when you think about it.
But another amazing thing happened. Maybe even just as amazing in the broader scheme and certainly for my life just as amazing, my home town of Huntsville, Alabama decided to build three new schools. Chaffee Elementary School, Ed White Jr. High School, and Grissom High School, and they would focus on math and science. I got to go to those schools. Chaffee Elementary School was in my backyard; Grissom High School was down at the end of the street, across the hill; and I got to go there, and I had the most amazing teachers you can imagine.
I can tell you a number of stories about teachers, but there was one teacher that was just the most remarkable lady. Her name was Gloria Spellman. She passed away a couple of years ago. But by my junior year in high school in Alabama, this is 1976, I had taken all the math courses that the state of Alabama offered, and I wanted to do more. And Ms. Spellman looked at me and a couple of other kids and said you know, you could learn calculus, but calculus was not taught in public high schools in Alabama in 1976. She said, I’ll tell you what, we’ll get some books and I’ll teach you. And she taught me calculus.
That allowed me to get into Harvard University, but I couldn’t have paid for Harvard University so I had to get somebody to pay for Harvard. Who did I get to pay? The United States Air Force. And the good news about that deal is that I only owed the Air Force four years of my life when I was done. Then I would get that whole Harvard degree and all I owed was four years. And if you add up all the math, when I made that decision, it was 42 years ago today. Nailed that one.
But now I got in the Air Force. I was an engineer in Communications Command at a little place called Gunner Air Force Station, Alabama, because join the Air Force and see the world, and they send you right back to Alabama. But that’s okay. I’m only going to be in the Air Force four years. I’ll get my masters; I’ll be all set. And right before I was going to get out, because I told everybody I was going to get out, my commander came to me and said you know, if there’s one thing you could do in the Air Force that would keep you in, what would it be? I said well, if I get out of the Air Force I’m getting in the space business because that’s where I want to be. He said we’re starting a space business in the Air Force; I’ll see what I can do. Next thing I knew, I’m in the space business.
Then I started learning about the space business, and I’ve gotten to meet the most amazing people. So, let me tell you about some more heroes.
Those gentlemen really created space in the military. All three in different ways. They changed the world.
The gentleman on the left you probably recognize because he’s been talked about a lot today, that’s Gen. Bernard Schriever. Benny Schriever.
You heard the Secretary of the Air Force this morning talk about he coined the term space superiority. Space superiority in future conflicts will be just as important as air superiority. And he was the inventor of the Corona satellite, the Discover program, spy satellites, ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]. He was the father of space and missiles. Almost everybody knows that story.
But the next officer, not everybody knows that story, and I don’t think all my dinner companions knew that story because I -- and every airman in this room should be able to tell the story. Because space in the military, Jim Dickinson, sorry for this, space in the military is an airman’s story. So, the gentleman in the middle is the fourth Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, Thomas D. White.
Thomas D. White in a hearing in 1958, now you’ve got to remember, Gen. Schriever just coined the term space superiority in 1957. Before Sputnik. Right after Sputnik, Thomas D. White, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, testifying in front of Congress, coins the term aerospace in his testimony. How many people in this room are aerospace engineers? An astronaut at our table is an aerospace engineer. The term was coined in a hearing, and he used that term like 12 times in the statement, and he defined it as the indivisible operations in the future of air and space that will allow the United States to dominate any battlefield in the future, if we can control air and space, and he coined the term aerospace. The world has changed because of that.
You want to know a funny story that came with that? You can read it in the Congressional Record. There was an Army general. His name was Beech, who was on the panel with Gen. White. And they said, they’d never heard the term aerospace before, the Senators at the front. They said so, Gen. Beech, what do you think about that term aerospace? I’ve never heard that term aerospace before. And literally, this is the quote in the Congressional Record. “Senator, in the Army we don’t call it aerospace. We call it armospace.” Jim Dickinson, it didn’t stick. Aerospace stuck. But that started us down the road of integrated air and space.
Then as time went on another great pioneer who’s no longer with [us], Gen. Jerry O’Malley, Commander of Tactical Air Command at the time, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, tragically was killed in a plane crash at Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, because I believe he would have been Chief of Staff someday. But when he was the XO [executive officer] of the Air Force, he had been the wing commander at Beale [Air Force Base, California], flying the SR-71. And he got read into all the space stuff that was in the classified world that was going on, and he said this space stuff can change warfare. And he started working to try to normalize space in the Air Force. He brought those space capabilities together, and then he went to the Chief, and he went to the Chief who was Lou Allen at the time, and he said we need to build a space command. We have to have a space command right now because we have to figure out how to bring space to the warfighter. This is 1982. Gen. Gabriel and Gen. Allen were the two that he was working with. He said we have to create a space command, and they did. We created Air Force Space Command in 1982.
So you think about that. Schriever, ’57. White, ’58. O’Malley. And what did those three officers have in common? They were all pilots. Son of a gun. Pilots invented space in the military. And somehow we’ve gotten to the point where pilots don’t care about space. I know my Chief cares about space. I know every Chief I’ve worked for cares about space, we do. We’ve just reached a point in time where space has reached the next level, and the next level’s going to require a different structure. It’s going to require a Unified Space Command again. It’s going to require a Space Force to deal with that, and that Space Force will still be in the United States Air Force but will have a four star Chief of Staff that will work with the Air Force Chief of Staff to work those issues in the future. It’s the logical progression of where we’re going, and that’s exactly where we are.
Heroes, everyone. Heroes no longer with us.
So, Gen. Schriever had a secret that somehow I think the world has forgotten. The secret was Sam Phillips. Sam Phillips somehow seems to have been forgotten in the story of Apollo and the story of 1969. But Sam Phillips came to work for Gen. Schriever in the 1950s as a colonel. The first program that Gen. Schriever gave him was the Minuteman I. Sam Phillips built the Minuteman I from an invention on the back of a piece of paper in 1957 to first funding from Congress in 1958, to the deployment of 800 three-stage solid rocket ICBMs in 800 new missile holes with 80 new command and control facilities across the middle of America, all deployed by 1964. They had to invent solid rocket fuel. They had to invent the guidance and electronics. They had to invent the entire command and control structure. And in six years from the back of an envelope, five years of Congressional funding, they built the Minuteman I.
Guess what Sam Phillips also built? He also built the B-52 in the United States Air Force. We still have Minuteman; we still have B-52s. You can’t say that Sam Phillips didn’t think about it right.
Talking with Tom Stafford last night he said Sam Phillips’ mantra was think out of the box. And oh my gosh, he did. But one day in the early 1960s James Webb and George Miller -- hopefully everybody in this room knows those names, the Administrator and Deputy Administrator of NASA -- called Gen. Schriever and said we’re building the Apollo program and I need somebody who can manage that kind of effort. Gen. Schriever in his oral history talked about Sam Phillips as, when he agreed to give Sam Phillips to NASA it was like pulling his teeth out, it was like losing his right arm. It was the worst thing that could ever happen, but he knew that Sam Phillips had to go over there, and Sam Phillips went from colonel to three-star general. You want to see an amazing picture?
July 16, 1969. Wernher von Braun with the binoculars, George Miller on the right, Lt. Gen. Sam Phillips right there on the right side of that picture.
After Apollo 10 Wernher von Braun said we’d have never had Apollo 10 without Sam Phillips. Talking about, if you read the history of George Miller and Sam Phillips, what was the key decision that had to be made in order to get to the moon by the end of the decade? And oh by the way, von Braun would not have made it, and he talks about it in his memoirs. The key decision was von Braun wanted to test the first stage of the Saturn 5 with dummy stages on top before he moved into integrated flight testing. But Sam Phillips has already done it with the Minuteman. In order to get there fast in the Minuteman he had built, done ground testing, all those things, and he said I can put all the stages together and we can launch it at once. And he convinced George Miller, and George Miller convinced von Braun, von Braun convinced James Webb and they went to all up-testing and the world was different.
When I was a kid I got to see the F-1 engine fire. My dad moved to Huntsville in 1965 with the Apollo program. I got to see all that, experience all that. It formed who I was, and it made me look up and dream about what the future could be, and the future can be awesome. But we have to be able to defend it. And that’s what we do.
Here’s a little thing about heroes. Heroes actually aren’t perfect. A lot of people think all heroes are perfect. They’re not. Von Braun had, and as a kid I didn’t know, I just knew von Braun was the guy that built the Saturn 5 and took us to the moon. But von Braun had a past with Nazi Germany. Von Braun was the leader of Peenemunde. He was the leader of the German capability that built the V2, thousands of V2s that attacked Europe and England in World War II.
That picture and those pictures that you see right there, are the capture of von Braun and the German scientists in Austria in May of 1945. It’s amazing how history could have turned out different. Von Braun was at Peenemunde, and he got conflicting orders. He got three different orders. He got one order, stay in Peenemunde and wait for the Russians, and oh by the way, the Russians got to Peenemunde first. He got an order that said when the Russians get to Peenemunde, fight to the death. And then he got an order that said you need to get away. He said the third order sounded better. So, he got away and then he went basically hoping to run into the American Army coming across France and he did, and the Army captured him and the rest is history.
Here’s the punch line. Here’s the part that blew me away. The part that you can’t make up. See that green arrow up there? That is Sgt. Dwayne Walter Johnson of Iowa of the 44th Infantry Division. As I was talking to my staff about how to end the speech we dug out the pictures of von Braun and my new Assistant Executive Officer, Lt. Col. Eric Johnson, said that’s my grandfather. I said there’s no way that can be your grandfather. He said oh, yeah, that’s my grandfather. And oh by the way, my grandfather used to tell that story and he dug out the picture and actually the family picture gets cut off. The last soldier on the left in the family picture, is not in the family picture. We dug out the family picture and that’s Sgt. Johnson. His son is now a lieutenant colonel who became a B-52 pilot who loved space. Why did he love space? Because his father loved space. What did his father, Lt. Col. Army Reserve Gaylen Johnson do? Besides being in the Army Reserve, Gaylen Johnson became the Director of STEM at NASA. There’s no way that can be true. But it is true.
So, you can sit here tonight in this magnificent place at The Broadmoor, and you can actually thank yourself that you’re here not because of von Braun, because of 44th ID and Sgt. Johnson who got him and brought him to the United States. It’s amazing what young people do just by doing their job. It’s amazing what our airmen do every day. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines do every day when they come to work, and they’re just doing their job. And they tell the story.
And I’ve got a bust of von Braun in my office. I’ve got von Braun books in my office. And Eric Johnson, every morning walks into my office and he sees that and I walked out to him when I saw that and I said Eric, are you telling me that’s your grandfather and you never told me that story? I didn’t think it was important. But it’s amazing because there’s Eric Johnson with a new group of heroes. They’re going to do amazing things. That’s the people that will make it happen.
And if you want to know who is going to get us to the moon in 24, who is going to get us to Mars, who is going to build the Space Command, who’s going to build the Space Force, who is going to do those things? It’s not the people up front.
I had a great friend, still have a great friend. His name is Frank Gorenc. He had a great line that’s appropriate for times like this. He said, you know, when he looked out at a group of young people like that, he would say all four-stars have two things in common, Chief, number one, we’re circling the drain, which means we’re just about done; and number two, we all wish we were them and we could go back and do it all again. Because if you want to know who’s going to get us to the moon, those people. That’s the next generation forum from the Space Foundation this last weekend who came here from all over the world to get excited about space.
And I’ll go back to my great grandfather, John Earl Hamilton. He gave me another great piece of advice, talking about horses this time. It’s really simple when you think about it. He said, John, you know how you make a horse run fast? I said no Papa. He said just let him run. Because horses love to run.
These young people, you know what Lauren Smith there in the middle loves to do? They love to run. So, the people up front, what you’ve got to do is you’ve just got to let those people run. You’ve got to get out of their way. The only way we’re going to get to the moon in 24, the only way we’re ever going to get to Mars, the only way we’re ever going to keep ahead of our adversaries, to keep ahead of China, keep ahead of Russia and do all this stuff, the only way that’s going to happen is if we let these people run. And if you want to know what Schriever did great and what White did great and what O’Malley did great is they let their people run. And too many times in this country over the last 20 years we’ve told people don’t run. Stop and wait. That cannot happen. Because the greatness of this country and the greatness of the partners we have around the world is because when we run we do great things.
So ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Sgt. Johnson, and all the people who do great things, I just want to thank you for making this an amazing evening and for allowing us to do great things. Now we have to allow the young people that come after us to do great things as well.
Thank you very much.