The Presidential Medal Of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest civilian honor, the equivalent of the military Medal of Honor in times of war.

In 1945, President Harry Truman, searching for a way to honor the contributions of American civilians in World War II, created the Medal of Freedom as the nation's highest civilian honor to be the equivalent of the military Medal of Honor. The honorific went dormant after the war ended.

The revival occurred in 1962 following a Gallup poll indicating that Americans favored the establishment of some sort of National Honors List to recognize individuals who made outstanding contributions to United States life in such endeavors as the arts, science, literature, education, religion, or community service. Within three months of the release of the poll results, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order creating the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Under Kennedy's decree, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was truly "Presidential." Previously, the Medal of Freedom could be awarded by the President, the Secretary of State or any of the various military Secretaries. Kennedy left the power of bestowal solely with the President. Nominations would come from a Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board (President Richard Nixon would abolish this Board in 1970) and the President could personally reject any of the Board's nominees. President Kennedy also gave executive discretion to confer the Medal of Freedom on persons not nominated by the Board. In the end, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom is a personal choice of a sitting President.

President Kennedy went on to expand the Presidential Medal of Freedom to include all who had made lasting contributions "in all forms of endeavor that are touched with the public interest." In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the award could be presented with a higher degree: The Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction.

America's highest civilian award is not given out lightly. Unlike its military equivalent, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is generally not awarded for solitary actions. The award is conferred only after careful deliberation of a lifetime of service from a distinguished career.

As President William Clinton's administration drew to a close, fewer than 400 persons had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lyndon Johnson, who made the first awards, has been the most generous despite almost scuttling the program during his administration, naming 91 recipients. President Clinton gave out more than 80 medals and was likely to surpass President Johnson's total as doling out Medal of Freedoms is a popular final act for out-going Chief Executives.

Most of the recipients are famous in American culture, but not all. The Presidential Medal of Freedom can be awarded posthumously and it need not go to an American. Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher and Lech Walesa are among those whose contributions to world peace have been recognized.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a two-inch pendant suspended from a blue ribbon featuring a five-pointed white star set against a red pentagon. In the center of the white star is a blue disc trimmed in gold and harboring a constellation of 13 gold stars. A gold eagle is placed between each pair of the star points. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented in a distinctive walnut presentation case. Each recipient receives a personalized certificate signed by the President citing the achievements that led to recognition.

Nominations for the Presidential medal of Freedom can be made by writing the President at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20500.

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