Obama awards Medal of Freedom to distinguished, diverse group

August 12, 2009

Talk about being in good company.

President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered the highest U.S. civilian honor, to 16 people on Wednesday including a celebrated scientist, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a gay rights pioneer, and a top leader against apartheid in South Africa.

“There are many honors and privileges bestowed on the occupant of this house, but few mean as much to me as the chance to award America’s highest civilian medal to the recipients that are here today,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House. OBAMA/

“This is a chance for me — and for the United States of America — to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries,” he said.

Honorees included scientist Stephen Hawking, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, deceased gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The honorees were not invited to speak during the ceremony, but one slipped in a few words anyway. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow – High Bird, wearing a headdress of brightly colored feathers that created a challenge for the president in draping the medal around his neck, moved over to the microphones to declare the he was deeply honored. Obama, smiling, gently maneuvered him away from the podium and back towards his seat.

Other awardees included breast cancer activist Nancy G. Brinker; doctor to the homeless Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer, Jr.; sports star and former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, now deceased; healthcare advocate and longtime Senate statesman Edward Kennedy, who was represented by his daughter; tennis great Billie Jean King; civil rights activist Reverend Joseph Lowery; acclaimed actor Sidney Poitier; actress and dancer Chita Rivera; former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson; cancer scientist Dr. Janet Davison Rowley; and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama presents Medal of Freedom)

7 comments

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Now what we need to see is a number of military service members receiving the medal of honor for their heroic actions taken while serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Posted by Kerrie | Report as abusive

Kerrie,
Only have one thing to say about your comment: WORD

Posted by TheObserver | Report as abusive

How on earth did entertainers, etc. end up getting the Medal of Freedom, when the very ones who create that freedom for them to do whatever they want were completely snubbed? What about a police officer (whom the president supposedly respects, now..ha), a fire-fighter, EMT, soldier…or even a FREE-market entrepreneur?

Posted by say whaaat?s | Report as abusive

The Medal of Honor has not been awarded to any living persons in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, only posthumously. Because of the intense partisan politics in Washington, D.C. over these wars, the Bush Administration subjected potential Medal of Honor recipients to intense background checks so as to avoid scrutiny from political opponents. Democrats did not want to submit names for the medal because they were afraid of being seen as aggrandizing war. This is typical cowardice from the elected officials who send our military to fight for America’s interests, but had other priorities themselves, when they had the opportunity to serve their country. Now they are afraid to recognize the courage and sacrifice of the people they send today. Infuriating.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

I think soon Obama will give everyone a medal, just to buy your VOTE, deja vu Soviet Style politics?

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

if you want to see more service members receiving the medal of honor, press your congressional representative. there is a process and a long one in fact.

Posted by HH Higgins | Report as abusive

[...] Billie Jean Moffitt King and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were among the 16 recipients recognized by President Obama yesterday for making a difference in this world. Obama doled out 16 Medal of Freedom Awards — [...]

it is the medal of freedon not the medal of honor which was printed in error by cnn. the medal of freedom is given yearly by every President.