Public Papers

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom


I've really been looking forward to one of the most distinguished duties of this office: the privilege of presenting this nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And I will make a few comments about each of the recipients before going forward with the formal citation and the presentation of the medal.

The first Presidential Medal recipients were chosen by President Kennedy. But soon after his death, they were awarded by President Johnson, along with some of the choices made by President Kennedy. And some of the first winners included Marian Anderson, Felix Frankfurter and, of course, a posthumous medal to President Kennedy -- all American heroes. And today I find myself standing with four more heroes who embody the achievement, vision, and dedication that is the greatness of this country. You have left an indelible mark as you've enriched this nation, and America is grateful.

Each one here today, indeed all five recipients, are pioneers. General James Doolittle, a trailblazer in modern aviation. Ambassador George Kennan, truly a visionary who foresaw the future of Soviet-American relations. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a bold achiever who stood alone against the tide of extremism. Secretary Douglas Dillon, an unparalleled public servant who shaped American foreign and economic policy. And finally, a fifth great American who is not with us, the late Lucille Ball, First Lady of Television to uncountable millions, worldwide.

General Jimmy Doolittle is an American war hero, a recordbreaking pilot, and an innovator in modern aviation. After serving his country as a flying cadet in World War I, he made the first cross-country flight with only one refueling stop. He set land and seaplane speed records. He was the first to fly blind, by instruments only. Indeed, Jimmy Doolittle was the master of the calculated risk. And when the United States entered World War II, General Doolittle was assigned a top-secret mission that was perhaps the most daring combined operation of the whole war. He led the first offensive aerial strike on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor. This courageous, one-way mission electrified the world and gave America's war -- the hopes that we had -- a terrific lift. During the war, General Doolittle also directed U.S. air power in the invasion of Africa and participated in 25 missions, including the first attack on Rome. General Doolittle is truly the father of modern aviation. For his dedication above and beyond the call of duty, for his bravery and valor, and for his innovation and daring, the Nation thanks him.

As a 27-year career diplomat, a renowned historian, astute professor, George Kennan has shaped the way Americans have thought about foreign policy in the postwar era. As head of the State Department's policy planning staff and as Counselor of the Department, and then as Ambassador to the Soviet Union, he helped our nation understand the dangers that it faced. He contributed mightily to the political and economic reconstruction of Europe.

And after his retirement from government, Ambassador Kennan joined the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and turned his formidable talents to scholarship. His many books, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among other honors, document the diplomatic history of our modern age. And through his writings and his guidance in the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, he has added more to our understanding of the relationship with the Soviet Union than perhaps any other individual American. Today we stand on the threshold of a new era, a new era in our relationship with the Soviet Union, one that looks beyond the successful strategy of containment which George Kennan did so much to develop. And so, for his unique contributions to the national security of this country, the United States honors Ambassador George Kennan.

Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman in American history to be elected to both Houses of Congress, serving for 32 years, holding office under six Presidents beginning with Franklin Roosevelt. Her talent, intellect, and distinguished service to this country resulted in her becoming the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President by a major political party. Senator Smith's finest hour came when she issued the ``Declaration of Conscience,'' an historic and courageous speech denouncing McCarthyism, and she spoke out when so many others remained silent. Senator Smith was instrumental in improving the status of women in the armed services and was an outspoken advocate of a strong nuclear deterrent in the face of the Soviet threat. We honor Senator Smith today for her commitment to truth and honesty in government and in America and to strengthening America at home and abroad. She looked beyond the politics of the time to see the future of America, and made us all better for it.

The brilliant achievements of Douglas Dillon raise the nobility of public service to new heights. He began his career as a businessman who later served in the Navy during World War II. While serving in the Eisenhower administration as Ambassador to France, and later as Under Secretary of State, Mr. Dillon pioneered an ambitious foreign aid policy. And in Latin America, his work with struggling economies strengthened the democratic forces there. In Western Europe, his determined foreign aid strategies led to the economic and military unity among the allies.

Douglas Dillon also served President Kennedy as Secretary of the Treasury and became one of the most influential members of that Cabinet. The Kennedy tax policy was revolutionary at the time, and Douglas Dillon was the man who developed those policies of lower taxes and policies that worked. But Douglas Dillon's dedication went beyond serving his nation as a public servant. Under his leadership as chairman, the Metropolitan Museum of Art became the second largest museum in the world after the Louvre. And Douglas Dillon dedicated himself to making America stronger as a diplomat, a public servant, businessman, and philanthropist -- truly a renaissance man. And for this, his countrymen salute him.

Lucille Ball was known as the First Lady of Television -- one of America's greatest comediennes. The series ``I Love Lucy'' quickly made her a household name and kept generations of Americans laughing. In fact, according to TV Guide, her face was seen by more people more often than the face of any human being who ever lived. ``I Love Lucy'' -- that ran in over 80 countries, and the cumulative audience runs in the tens of billions. Who can forget Lucy? She was like everyone's next-door neighbor, only funnier. [Laughter] Her secret, she said, was to take everyday things and exaggerate them to funny absurdity -- and it worked. And she became an American success story and a brilliant businesswoman. Lucille Ball was a national treasure who brought laughter to us all. Love Lucy? Sure. This nation is grateful to her, and we will miss her dearly.

And now I am pleased to present the citations -- have the citations read and present the medals to our distinguished recipients. So, first, General Doolittle, if I could ask you to come forward, sir?

Aviation pioneer and military hero, James H. Doolittle is a symbol of vision and courage. His numerous contributions to aeronautical science, often at great personal hazard, extend from the earliest achievements in long-distance flying to the age of rockets. In the uniform of his country, General Doolittle's heroic leadership inspired the American people during the darkest hours of the Second World War. In public service, he continued to foster American advances in aeronautics, the cause to which he devoted his life. For extraordinary service to country, the American people salute one of their foremost heroes.

Now, Ambassador Kennan, if you would come forward, sir. May I say, welcome.

Career diplomat, historian, educator, George Kennan has helped shape American foreign policy since 1933. His many years in government service and a lifetime of scholarly writings revealed a deep insight into East-West relations, a recognition of the challenges of totalitarian expansion, as well as a man of extraordinary sensitivity. For his success in advancing our national security and for his many contributions to the study of international affairs, George Kennan's fellow Americans proudly honor him.

Senator Smith.

As the United States Representative for 8 years, as a three-term Senator, Margaret Chase Smith served the people of Maine and the Nation with distinction. She influenced greatly the development of our postwar foreign and domestic policies, and her abilities and independent spirit made her one of the most admired women in America. A firm believer in a strong national defense, her efforts to improve the status of women in the Navy earned her the affectionate title Mother of the Waves. And for many years of outstanding public service, America proudly honors her.

[C. Douglas Dillon.]

In a lifetime of responsible positions, C. Douglas Dillon has dedicated himself to bettering America and the world. By fostering European economic and military unity, he furthered the cause of democracy. Through his leadership on economic issues, he helped make possible the material advance of a generation. Through his dedication to the Alliance for Progress, he made real for millions America's determination to promote social development. For service to three Presidents and for commitment to his fellow man, America honors Mr. Dillon.

Gary, can I ask you to come forward -- Mr. Gary Morton -- you know Bar.

A gifted comedienne known and loved by generations of audiences around the world, Lucille Ball left a lasting impression of American entertainment. For over 50 years, she warmed the hearts of millions with her humor, both in films and later on television, where no program was better named than ``I Love Lucy.'' As president of her own production company, she set an example with her commitment to programming of quality for family enjoyment. Lucy's work continues to bring joy and laughter into American homes. And a grateful nation remembers her with love and appreciation.

And now I will present the medal to her husband, Gary Morton.

That concludes this brief, but heartfelt, ceremony. And we're delighted you all are here, and thank all of you for coming to honor these five individuals. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:58 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. Following his remarks, the President and Mrs. Bush hosted a luncheon in the Residence for the recipients.