Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Bush recognized twelve people at a White House ceremony last month. The twelve were officially honored with the nation's highest civilian award. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. We tell about the people who received this award -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest government honor given to civilians. It recognizes people for their special efforts for national security, world peace, culture or other public service.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created in nineteen-forty-five. President Harry Truman established the award to honor civilians for their service during World War Two. After the war, the medal was not given until the early nineteen-sixties. That is when President John F. Kennedy decided to re-start the program as a peacetime honor.

President Kennedy was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom after his death. Every president since then has presented the award. Recent honorees have included former President Ronald Reagan and former German leader Helmut Kohl. American civil rights activist Rosa Parks and racecar driver Richard Petty also have received the medal.

Last month, more than one-hundred people gathered in the East Room of the White House for the award ceremony. President Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to eight men and one woman. Another woman honored, Katharine Graham, died last year. Two other honorees, Placido Domingo and Nelson Mandela, were unable to attend.

The twelve honorees were recognized for their leadership in the arts, politics, science, business and sports. One of the honorees is Hank Aaron. He is one of the most famous players in baseball history. He played for twenty-three years in North American baseball's Major Leagues. He holds a number of Major League records, including the most homeruns hit by any player.

As a young man, Mr. Aaron played with a baseball team for African Americans. Then, he joined a Major League team, the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves sent him to a small team in Jacksonville, Florida. He was one of the first African Americans to play for a professional team in the southern United States. Over the years, Hank Aaron experienced racial hatred. Yet it did not stop him from becoming one of the game's great players.

(MUSIC BRIDGE – The Cosby Show Theme)

A famous funnyman also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Bill Cosby became one of the most popular television performers in the United States during the nineteen-eighties. His program, The Cosby Show, changed the way American television programs showed African Americans.

Bill Cosby once said that you cannot bring racial groups together by joking about their differences. He wanted to talk about their similarities instead. Mr. Bush praised him for using the power of laughter to heal wounds and build bridges among people.

(MUSIC BRIDGE – Placido Domingo)

Opera singer Placido Domingo was honored for his forty-four years as an entertainer. He has performed in one-hundred-eighteen different opera parts. That is more than any other tenor in the history of opera performance.

Placido Domingo also has directed performances at famous opera houses like the Metropolitan in New York City. He currently serves as the artistic director of the Washington Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.

President Bush also honored Peter Drucker, one of the world's top experts on operating businesses. Mr. Drucker is a leading supporter of ideas such as privatization and giving powers from a central leadership to local officials. Over the years, he has advised many governments, public service organizations and businesses. He currently offers advice to religious organizations.

Newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, who died last year, also was honored. Mrs. Graham helped lead the Washington Post to its position as one of the country's leading newspapers. During her leadership, the Post aggressively reported on secret documents that described American involvement in the Vietnam War. The newspaper also investigated and reported about the break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters at the Watergate building. This investigation led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Another honoree, D.A. Henderson, is best known for his work for the World Health Organization. Between nineteen-sixty-six and nineteen-seventy-seven, Doctor Henderson led the W-H-O campaign to end the threat from the disease smallpox. He also helped establish the W-H-O's program to stop the spread of six major diseases. This program now provides vaccine medicines to eighty percent of the world's children. Currently, Doctor Henderson serves as the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies in Baltimore, Maryland.


Conservative American thinker and writer Irving Kristol also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Professor Kristol taught at New York University and its Graduate School of Business Administration.

Mr. Kristol helped influence conservative thought in the United States. His thinking mixed traditional conservative ideas with important issues in modern society. Mr. Bush said Irving Kristol's writings have helped change American politics.

Nelson Mandela also was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr. Mandela led the fight to end the system of racial separation in South Africa. The South African government jailed Mr. Mandela in nineteen-sixty-two. He was released in nineteen-ninety. Later, Mr. Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress. He was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in nineteen-ninety-three. The following year, he became South Africa's first democratically elected president.

Inventor and businessman Gordon Moore also was honored. He helped establish the Intel Corporation. Intel successfully developed the microchip, an important part in computers. Mr. Moore retired from the company in nineteen-ninety-five. Since then, he and his wife have become involved in activities to help others. They have given thousands of millions of dollars to create a foundation that supports education, scientific research and the environment.

Another honoree is Nancy Reagan, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan. During her husband's presidency, Mrs. Reagan traveled around the country and urged young people to "Just Say No" to illegal drugs. In recent years, she has continued her work against illegal drug use. She also has increased support for a program that involves older adults and children with special needs.

(MUSIC BRIDGE – "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood")

Fred Rogers produced and appeared in a popular children's television show for more than thirty years. It is called "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." The goal of his work is to help support the healthy emotional growth of children and their families. "The whole idea," he says, "is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who needs it." President Bush said this message has won Fred Rogers a very special place in the hearts of mothers and fathers across America.

Another Medal of Freedom honoree, A.M. Rosenthal, worked as a reporter, editor and writer for the New York Times newspaper. He reported about the suffering of oppressed people, especially religious minorities. He was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Poland in nineteen-sixty. Three years later, Mr. Rosenthal returned to New York City to help supervise the newspaper. He supervised daily news operations of the New York Times for almost sixteen years.

At the White House ceremony, President Bush noted that each honoree has improved the life of America and the world. He said all twelve have left a lasting influence of hope, strength and action.

This program was written and produced by George Grow. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.