President Obama awards Medal of Freedom to Clinton, Oprah, others

USA Today

President Obama paid tribute Wednesday to Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, and both of them honored a presidential icon: John F. Kennedy.

Obama awarded Clinton and 15 other Americans the Presidential Medal of Freedom, created 50 years ago by Kennedy. Other recipients included television legend Oprah Winfrey, country music artist Loretta Lynn, women’s rights leader Gloria Steinem, baseball great Ernie Banks and pioneering astronaut Sally Ride.

“These are men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House.

MORE: The Obama and Clinton relationship over the years

Obama and Clinton later traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a solemn ceremony at the eternal flame that marks Kennedy’s grave. Friday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination that transformed American politics and culture.

The delegation to the graveside included members of the Kennedy family, as well as a former official who may soon seek the presidency herself: former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On a sunny but chilly day, Obama, the Clintons, and first lady Michelle Obama placed a wreath before the twin graves of President Kennedy and wife Jacqueline. The Obamas and the Clintons held their hands over their hearts as a military bugler played Taps.

Obama also pays tribute to JFK at a dinner tonight for current and past Medal of Freedom recipients.

Like their presidential predecessors, Obama and Clinton have often paid homage to the memory of the charismatic Kennedy.

The Kennedy family gave Obama crucial support during his 2008 presidential campaign. The endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the late president’s brother, helped Obama win that year’s Democratic primary race — over Hillary Clinton.

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