Obama honors ‘extraordinary’ Medal of Freedom recipients

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Mikulski among 17 being honored at White House.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama recognized 17 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award Tuesday, including giants of the entertainment industry such as Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, baseball legends Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, and politicians, activists and government innovators. WASHINGTON — The 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year are “extraordinary people” who have left their mark on politics, entertainment, athletics and the United States itself, President Obama said Tuesday. Johnson to filmmaker Steven Spielberg to recently deceased baseball star Yogi Berra, Obama paid tribute to American originals with the nation’s highest civilian honor during a White House ceremony. “We celebrate artists, public servants and two legends from America’s pastime,” Obama said, the latter comment referring to Berra and fellow baseball Hall of Fame member Willie Mays. Berra, who died in September, is as known for his use of the language as well as his baseball skill, Obama said, paying tribute to the man who said “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Mays, who wore a baseball cap to the ceremony, received perhaps the loudest ovation of the ceremony. “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could think about running for president,” said Obama, the nation’s first African-American chief executive.

He lived his life with pride, humility and an original, open mind.” Of Mays, the president said: “We don’t have time to list all of Willie Mays statistics. The honored political leaders included the late U.S. congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to mount a major presidential campaign; former congressman Lee Hamilton, who specialized in foreign affairs; and retiring Sen. On March 28, 1942, Yasui challenged President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which placed restrictions on Japanese-Americans, including the internment of 120,000 in camps across several Western states.

The senator, who announced she will not seek re-election next year, is being honored for her work on science research and funding, health care and equal pay for women. Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, also earned recognition for resigning his post in the Justice Department in 1973 rather than follow President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor. Supreme Court ruled against him, an Oregon district court eventually overturned his conviction — although the ruling did not cover the broader constitutionality of wartime internment.

In 1988, two years after Yasui’s death, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized for the relocation and internment and provided financial compensation to surviving internees. Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan won honors for pioneering the Latin-flavored fusion sound in music, while composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim “re-invented the American musical” with complex and challenging themes. —Bonnie Carroll, a veterans advocate, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to support families and loved ones of military heroes killed during their service. Posthumous recipients include Indian tribal advocate Billy Frank Jr., who led “fish-ins”— similar to sit-ins— during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s, and civil rights leader Minoru Yasui, who challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination and spent months in solitary confinement during the legal battle. Johnson, the NASA mathematician, broke barriers of gender and race as she ascended to a position tracing the paths for early space flights, Obama said.

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