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Cooper Visits Nation’s Capital

May 21, 1963 - From the highest officials to the youngest children, the nation’s capital gave its praise and its heart today to Gordon Cooper, the homespun Air Force major who became a national hero by orbiting the earth 22 times. From President Kennedy he received a decoration, from Congress a standing ovation, and from more than 200,000 Washingtonians cheers of adulation. “You have given the United States a great day and a great lift,” the President told the astronaut. (Below, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy watches the award ceremony his daughter, Mary Kerry). To catch a glimpse of the nation’s newest hero, cooks stood on the roof of the White House, Caroline Kennedy and her nursery school classmates stood with their noses pressed against the windows, and persons stood five and six deep along the motorcade route from the White House to Capitol Hill. As the President observed, the welcoming ceremony came on the 36th anniversary of another famous flight — the trans-Atlantic hop of Charles A. Lindbergh. It was on May 21, 1926, when Major Cooper was a 2-month-old baby in Shawnee, Okla., that Lindbergh landed in Paris after a 3,610-mile flight. The technological contrast between the two flights was emphasized by the President. In flights of almost the same duration, Major Cooper, speeding at 17,500 miles an hour in contrast to the 100-mile-an-hour speed of the Spirit of St. Louis, traveled about 150 times the distance of Colonel Lindbergh. “Both flights,” the President observed, “were equally hazardous. Both were equally daring.”

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