President Barack Obama joined forces with Bill and Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to recognize the legacy of John F. Kennedy, the president who inspired a generation well beyond the day he was felled by an assassin's bullets 50 years ago this week.
Obama awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to former President Clinton and 15 other Americans who have made significant contributions to U.S. culture, politics, sports, and science.
Recipients ranged from TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey, to former Chicago Cubs baseball star Ernie Banks, to the late astronaut Sally K. Ride, to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.
"Today, we salute fierce competitors who became true champions," Obama said, pausing to speak in personal terms about each of the recipients and their contributions to society.
Obama said Bill Clinton's presidency had been only the start of his work to improve the world, crediting his post-presidency humanitarian works as helping to save or improve the lives of hundreds of millions around the world.
"I'm grateful, Bill, as well, for the advice and counsel you have offered me on and off the golf course, and most importantly for your life-saving work around the world, which represents what's very best in America," Obama said.
After the event in a packed White House East Room, Obama and the Clintons will pay homage to Kennedy in a visit to his grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Wednesday evening, Obama plans a speech on Kennedy's legacy of service at a dinner at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History attended by current and past medal recipients, including baseball's Hank Aaron, astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
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