President Barack Obama helped place a wreath near the eternal flame at the Arlington National Cemetery gravesite of former President John F. Kennedy, who was shot dead 50 years ago this week.
Obama was joined today by first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the Kennedy family in a moment of silence at the gravesite.
Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.
Before arriving at the cemetery, Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 16 Americans. Kennedy created the modern version of the award and renamed it in 1963, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
“This is one of my favorite events every year. This year is just a little more special, because this year marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy establishing this award,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House where the audience included President Kennedy’s grandson, Jack, and Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy who served as attorney general in his brother’s administration. Robert Kennedy was assassinated as he sought the presidency in 1968.
Today’s medal recipients included former President Clinton, who as a 16-year-old member of Boys Nation from Arkansas shook hands with Kennedy in 1963. Clinton has said the moment helped inspire him to become a public figure.
Others receiving the award included media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey; feminist icon Gloria Steinem; country music singer Loretta Lynn; Ernie Banks, the first African-American player for the Chicago Cubs baseball team; the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who died last year and had represented his state since it entered the union in the late 1950s, and former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican who Obama said served as a mentor for him when he entered the Senate from Illinois in 2005.
Basketball coach Dean Smith was among the other recipients, along with former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, chemist Mario Molina, the late astronaut Sally Ride, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, minister and organizer Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, and former federal judge Patricia Wald.