President Obama followed in the footsteps of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to Bill Clinton and others, just two days before the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor a civilian can receive for their contributions to the improvement of the arts, culture, politics, sciences, sports, and other fields.
Kennedy established the modern version of the medal and was planning to present the award to the first group of honorees, but he was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.
Hundreds of civilians have since received the honor.
Obama welcomed the Clintons, Oprah Winfrey, Sally Ride (the first American woman in space), baseball player Ernie Banks, country music singer Loretta Lynn, and others to the Medal ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday morning.
During his speech, President Obama spoke about Bill Clinton’s accomplishments as President, and his activities following his years in the White House, especially his humanitarian efforts alongside Republican President George W. Bush.
“I’m grateful, Bill, as well, for the advice and counsel that you’ve offered me, on and off the golf course,” Obama said. “And most importantly, for your lifesaving work around the world, which represents what’s the very best in America.
Obama and Clinton have been at odds occasionally, most recently when the former President stated that President Obama should honor his promises to the American people in regards to the Affordable Care Act.
But today, politics were put aside to follow in a timeless Presidential tradition.
President Kennedy signed an executive order in 1963 that made bestowing the Medal of Freedom a Presidential privilege.
President Obama said this was one of the favorite duties of his office.
Following the Medal ceremony, Obama and Clinton traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremony to honor President John F. Kennedy at the eternal flame. President Kennedy is buried there and Robert Kennedy’s grave is nearby; two fallen brothers, joined forever by greatness and tragedy.
Guests at the wreath-laying ceremony included Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, flanked on either side by Obama and Clinton, who each held her hands.
On a beautiful, crisp fall day, President Obama and former President Bill Clinton were accompanied by their wives, First Lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. They placed their hands on their hearts for a moment to honor the 35th President as a bugler played taps nearby.
Obamas & Clintons place wreath at Eternal Flame at JFK Gravesite at Arlington. (TV Pool photo/Stacey Klein/NBC) pic.twitter.com/PeyJzh3TTn
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) November 20, 2013
— Arlington Cemetery (@ArlingtonNatl) November 20, 2013
Obama will give a speech on Kennedy’s legacy of service at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Past Medal of Freedom recipients will attend the ceremony.
Among the guests expected tonight are baseball player Hank Aaron, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, soul singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, according to The Washington Post.
This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
President Obama also plans to meet privately with Peace Corps volunteers. The organization was instituted by Kennedy before he was killed.
In addition to President Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Ernie Banks, President Obama awarded the medal to Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post; Daniel Inouye, the late Hawaii senator; Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economics; former Sen. Richard Lugar; country music legend Loretta Lynn; chemist and scientist Mario Molina; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; civil rights leader Bayard Rustin; musician Arturo Sandoval; Dean Smith, head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team; author Gloria Steinem; civil rights leader Cordy Tindell Vivian; and Judge Patricia Wald.