John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of President Johnson and Under Secretary of State George W. Ball at the Presentation of the Medal of Freedom Awards

December 06, 1963

*see APP Note in the footnote of this document

[ Delivered in the State Dining Room at the White House ]

MR. BALL: Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Chief Justice and Members of the Supreme Court, Members of the Cabinet, Members of the Congress, Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Distinguished Guests: It is my privilege to welcome you to an historic ceremony. Today, the President of the United States is expressing the appreciation of a great Nation for the extraordinary achievements of a remarkable group of men and women, achievements spanning a wide spectrum of human endeavor: the arts, science, diplomacy, government, the humanities, the law, and philanthropy.

For the first time, the President is establishing what we can proudly call an American civil honors list. Each year hereafter the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be conferred upon a few individuals chosen with great care by the President himself.

The ceremony today has a dual significance. We are joining President Johnson not only in honoring the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the high endeavors that have won them this acclaim but also in paying tribute to the man responsible for this new decoration.

It was characteristic of President Kennedy that early in his administration he should turn his mind to the means by which we could give appropriate encouragement to deeds well done. He felt deeply that our Nation should pay full homage to those who contribute to enriching the qualities of American life, strengthening the security of free men and building the foundations for peace.

He sought a way of expressing this appreciation in a systematic manner so that it could become a part of American tradition, a means of national thanks and encouragement for the selfless effort and the brilliant task.

So as to provide orderly arrangements for the conferring of this recognition, President Kennedy directed the Distinguished Awards Board to survey the fields of achievement and to suggest candidates for the award for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This was not an easy task, not one to be lightly undertaken or quickly accomplished. Those of us who were given this assignment were overwhelmed but gratified by the prevalence and variety of achievement. We were, in a very real sense, embarrassed by riches and the work of initial selection required solemn debate and a bold exercise of judgement.

The work of the Board, however, was only the beginning of a process. The President reviewed our suggestions with care and reflection. He added and subtracted names and directed that some nominations be held for a later year. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, he felt, should be given only after careful thought, always sparingly so as not to debase its currency.

He and Mrs. Kennedy studied and revised the design submitted for this decoration, and the beautiful medal you see here today bears their joint imprimatur.

This first year, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is being conferred on 31 individuals. In the case of 9, the special award is being awarded with distinction.

President Johnson shares with his great predecessor a deep respect for distinguished achievement and a desire to give gratitude and recognition to those who nobly serve the cause of humanity. He has come here today to pay honor to a bright constellation of talent and achievement.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chief Justice and Members of the Court, Members of Congress, Distinguished Recipients of the Award, Fellow Americans:

Over the past 2 weeks, our Nation has known moments of the utmost sorrow, of anguish and shame. This day, however, is a moment of great pride.

In the shattering sequence of events that began 14 days ago, we encountered in its full horror man's capacity for hatred and destruction.

There is little we do not now know of evil, but it is time to turn once more to the pursuits of honor and excellence and of achievement that have always marked the true direction of the American people.

So we meet today to confer the Nation's highest civil honor on 31 of the Nation's most distinguished citizens, citizens of the free world.

No words could add to the distinction of the men and women who are being honored today. It is rather the reverse. Their names add distinction to the award.

So, in joining with my fellow countrymen to express the Nation's gratitude to each of you, I want particularly to thank you for reminding us that whatever evil moments may pass by, we are and we shall continue to be a people touched with greatness called by high destiny to serve great purposes.

MR. BALL: Mr. President, Miss Marjan Anderson.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Artist and citizen, she has ennobled her race and her country while her voice has enthralled the world.

MR. BALL: Mr. Pablo Casals. Mr. Casals was unfortunately unable to be with us today, Mr. President, but you may wish to read his citation in absentia.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Statesman of music, he has incarnated the freedom of art, while the cello under his fingers has touched the heart of the world.

MR. BALL: Miss Genevieve Caulfield.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Teacher and humanitarian, she has been for four decades a onewoman Peace Corps in Southeast Asia, winning victories over darkness by helping the blind to become full members of society.

MR. BALL: Dr. John F. Enders.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Physician and researcher, he has opened new pathways to medical discovery and has been an example and companion to two generations of doctors in the demanding quest for scientific truth.

MR. BALL: Mr. Karl Holton.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Innovator in applying imaginative solutions to problems of juvenile delinquency, he has contributed generously to developing responsible citizenship among our youth.

MR. BALL: Mr. Robert J. Kiphuth.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Teacher and coach, he has inspired generations of athletes with high ideals of achievement and sportsmanship.

MR. BALL: Mr. Edwin H. Land.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Scientist and inventor, he has brought his creative gifts to bear in industry, government and education, enriching the lives of millions by giving new dimensions to photography.

MR. BALL: Governor Herbert H. Lehman. I know that we were all deeply saddened to hear yesterday of the death of this great citizen.
Mr. President, you may wish to read his citation in absentia.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Citizen and statesman, he has used wisdom and compassion as the tools of government and has made politics the highest form of public service.

MR. BALL: J. Clifford MacDonald. Mrs. MacDonald will receive the award on behalf of her deceased husband.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Businessman and philanthropist, he has directed his concern to the quiet but noble work of enlarging the lives and opportunities of the physically and mentally handicapped.

MR. BALL: Mr. George Meany.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Citizen and national leader, in serving the cause of labor, he has greatly served the cause of his Nation and of freedom in the world.

MR. BALL: Professor Alexander Meiklejohn.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Educator and libertarian, as teacher by example and philosopher in practice, his free and fertile mind has influenced the course of American higher education.

MR. BALL: Mr. Ludwig Mies van der Robe.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Teacher, designer, master builder, he has conceived soaring structures of glass, steel and concrete which at once embody and evoke the distinctive qualities of our age.

MR. BALL: Mr. Clarence B. Randall.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Leader of industry, counselor to Presidents, he has been a forceful and articulate philosopher of the role of business in a free society.

MR. BALL: Mr. Rudolf Serkin.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Artist and teacher, he has given the classical traditions of the piano new life in a disordered age.

MR. BALL: Mr. Edward Steichen.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Photographer and collector, he has made the camera the instrument of aesthetic perception and thereby transformed a science into an art.

MR. BALL: Professor George W. Taylor.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Economist and arbitrator, he has been the voice of reason and good will in the industrial relations of our society, enlisting management and labor in the cause of industrial peace.

MR. BALL: Dr. Alan T. Waterman.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Physicist and public servant, he has been the far-sighted advocate of Federal support of the sciences, using the resources of government to improve the quality and increase the thrust of basic research.

MR. BALL: Mr. Mark S. Watson.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Soldier in the First World War and correspondent in the Second, he has given the American people informed, wide-ranging and independent coverage of the Nation's security and defense.

MR. BALL: Mrs. Annie D. Wauneka.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. First woman elected to the Navajo Tribal Council, by her long crusade for improved health programs she has helped dramatically to lessen the menace of disease among her people and to improve their way of life.

MR. BALL: Mr. E. B. White. Mr. President, Mr. White, unfortunately, is unable to be here today because of illness.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. An essayist whose concise comment on men and places has revealed to yet another age the vigor of the English sentence.

MR. BALL: Mr. Edmund Wilson. Mr. Wilson also unfortunately is unable to be with us today.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Critic and historian, he has converted criticism itself into a creative act, while setting for the Nation a stern and uncompromising standard of independent judgment.

MR. BALL: Mr. Thornton Wilder.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Artist of rare gaiety and penetration, he has inscribed a noble vision in his books, making the commonplaces of life yield the wit, the wonder and the steadfastness of the human adventure.

MR. BALL: Mr. Andrew Wyeth.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Painter of the American scene, he has in the great humanist tradition illuminated and clarified the verities and delights of everyday life.

MR. BALL: And now, Mr. President, let me present those who are to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Special Distinction.
First, Mr. Ellsworth Bunker.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Citizen and diplomat, he has brought integrity, patience and a compassionate understanding of other men and nations to the service of the Republic under three Presidents.

MR. BALL: Dr. Ralph J. Bunche.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Scholar and diplomat, servant of the emerging world order, he has opened up new vistas in the demanding quest for international justice and peace.

MR. BALL: Dr. James B. Conant.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Scientist and educator, he has led the American people in the fight to save our most precious resource-our children.

MR. BALL: Governor Luis Mufioz Marin.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Poet, politician, public servant, patriot, he has led his people on to new heights of dignity and purpose and transformed a stricken land into a vital society.

MR. BALL: Mr. Robert A. Lovett.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Servant of the Republic, he has set high standards for the private citizen in public service by his selfless dedication to the national security under four Presidents.

MR. BALL: Mr. Jean Monnet.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Citizen of France, statesman of the world, he has made persuasion and reason the weapons of statecraft, moving Europe toward unity and the Atlantic nations toward a more effective partnership.

MR. BALL: Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Jurist, scholar, counselor, conversationalist, he has brought to all his roles a zest and a wisdom which has made him teacher to his time.

MR. BALL: Mr. John I. McCloy.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON. Diplomat and public servant, banker to the world and godfather to German freedom, he has brought cheerful wisdom and steady effectiveness to the tasks of war and peace.

MR. BALL: I ask Mr. McCloy to offer some remarks on behalf of the recipients.

[ At this point Mr. McCloy spoke briefly. "I do know that I can speak for all of the recipients," he said, "when I say that we are not only much honored but deeply moved by the fact that we receive at your hands, Mr. President, this award on the very day that President Kennedy appointed for its bestowal by him upon us. In the short time allotted to him, he elevated in the life of the Nation the arts and the sciences, education and the public service. He had joy in them and his joy was communicated to men and women everywhere." He concluded by pledging the talents of the group "to the furtherance of the high objectives which President Kennedy intended by the nature of this honor to stimulate." President Johnson then resumed speaking.]

I have also determined to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on another noble man whose death we mourned 6 months ago: His Holiness, Pope John XXIII.

He was a man of simple origins, of simple faith, of simple charity. In his exalted office he was still the gentle pastor. He believed in discussion and persuasion. He profoundly respected the dignity of man.

He gave the world immortal statements of the rights of man, of the obligations of men to each other, of their duty to strive for a world community in which all can live in peace and fraternal friendship. His goodness reached across temporal boundaries to warm the hearts of men of all nations and of all faiths.

The citation reads:

His Holiness Pope John XXIII, dedicated servant of God. He brought to all citizens of the planet a heightened sense of the dignity of the individual, of the brotherhood of man, and of the common duty to build an environment of peace for all human kind.

John Kennedy is gone. Each of us will know that we are the lesser for his death. But each is somehow larger because he lived. A sadness has settled on the world which will never leave it while we who knew him are still here.

The America that produced him shall honor him as well. As a simple gesture, but one which I know he would not have counted small, it is my privilege at this moment to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to John Fitzgerald Kennedy on behalf of the great Republic for which he lived and died.

The citation reads:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, soldier, scholar, statesman, defender of freedom, pioneer for peace, author of hope--combining courage with reason, and combating hate with compassion, he led the land he loved toward new frontiers of opportunity for all men and peace for all time. Beloved in a life of selfless service, mourned by all in a death of senseless crime, the energy, faith and devotion which he brought to his extraordinarily successful though tragically brief endeavors will hereafter "light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

APP Note: This document, although reflecting the words of Lyndon B. Johnson, is included in the Public Papers of John F. Kennedy. The document in the Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson can be found here:

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of President Johnson and Under Secretary of State George W. Ball at the Presentation of the Medal of Freedom Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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