The Medal of Freedom,introduced by John F. Kennedy in 1963,is awarded to individuals who have contributed to the security of the United States,world peace,cultural endeavors or other public or private endeavors.
“The award recognizes outstanding individuals who have been leaders in their chosen fields,have led lives of vision and character and have made especially meritorious contributions to our nation and the world,” Bush said at the White House ceremony.
This year's award recipients included two doctors,pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson and Anthony S. Fauci,a leading HIV/AIDS researcher.
Carson is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Children's Center. He made medical history in 1987 when he separated conjoined twins attached at the back of the skull and has also made considerable advances in controlling brain seizures.
Bush noted Carson's ability to lift himself out of the poor Detroit neighborhood he grew up in and achieve great things. He also spoke of the importance of Carson's mother,Sonya,in his life. The East Room audience gave her a round of applause.
Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. attended the ceremony to prepare for a film in which he will play Carson.
Fauci,director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,has pioneered AIDS research and helped create the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Bush joked about Fauci's allegiance to the New York Yankees and commended him for his “determined and aggressive efforts” to fight HIV/AIDS.
Annette Lantos,wife of the late Tom Lantos,accepted a medal on his behalf. Lantos,a California Democrat,was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. He died of cancer in February.
“We miss his powerful voice and his strong Hungarian accent,” Bush said. “We miss his generosity of spirit. And we miss his vigorous defense of human rights and his powerful witness for the cause of human freedom.”
Retired Marine general Peter Pace received an award for his exceptional military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. His term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ended last year.
“He helped transform our military into a more efficient and effective force in America's defense,” Bush said of Pace.
University of Miami President Donna Shalala received an award for her work as secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. In March,she and former senator Bob Dole headed a presidential commission on care provided to wounded returning soldiers.
“She believes deeply that our nation has no more important responsibility than to make sure that we provide our veterans with all the love and care and support they deserve,” Bush said.
Laurence H. Silberman,federal court of appeals judge for the District of Columbia,co-chaired a presidential commission on failures in intelligence concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Bush joked about Silberman's friendships with Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and called him “a clear-eyed guardian of the Constitution.”
Previous recipients of the award include Pope John XXIII,astronaut Neil Armstrong,artist Norman Rockwell,Walt Disney,Frank Sinatra and Edward Teller,father of the hydrogen bomb.