Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom

June 23, 1987

It's a pleasure to have all of you here today to honor some of our fellow Americans who've made a difference, Americans who represent the very best of our country. In my first inaugural, I said: "Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, just don't know where to look." Well, I've been blessed over the years with having had the opportunity to meet many American heroes and to get to know the truly admirable people who make up our land.

Sometimes, because we spend so much time and energy on trying to solve our country's problems, we lose sight of the fundamental strength of character that abounds in our citizens. I recently visited Europe, and a great deal was said about the Marshall plan, something Winston Churchill called "the most unsordid act in history." Those of us who lived through it understand how simple it would have been for us to have come home after the war and let the rest of the world fend for itself. Our people, after all, had sacrificed life and wealth to save mankind, and we could have easily justified sitting back and enjoying ourselves and our prosperity.

Well, in the days following World War II, Pope Pius XII said: "The American people have a genius for great and unselfish deeds; into the hands of America, God has placed an afflicted mankind." Well, we didn't shirk the great responsibility that was thrust upon us. For four decades, we've carried a heavy load of leadership. It's been four decades of peace in Europe and four decades of economic growth and prosperity for the Western democracies. The American people were inspired to carry this heavy load, to do what was right rather than what was easy, by individuals like the ones that we honor today. Among Thomas Carlyle's many works is a book about heroes and heroism. In it he pointed out: "The hero can be a poet, a prophet, king, priest, or what you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born into."

Well, the heroes in America reflect the positive and uplifting values of our people. That's why we call today's awards Medals of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom award, which we bestow on our Americans today, is this country's top civilian honor. The list of former recipients contains the names of military heroes, like General Omar Bradley, but also the names of distinguished individuals like Dr. Jonas Salk, Jesse Owens, Walt Disney, Helen Keller, and others. Today's recipients are of the same caliber. They exemplify the ideals of America. They have excelled in the arts. They have written works that touched our hearts. They've made us laugh. They've helped make our country more secure and provided for the less fortunate. They're some of America's best. And today we're proud to award them the Medals of Freedom. And now, it's my pleasure to announce this year's awardees.

Anne Legendre Armstrong:

Since her earliest days in grassroots politics, Anne Armstrong has been an intrepid fighter for the cause of freedom and liberty, and against the intrusions of big government. Her great talents and capacity for work catapulted her onto the national political scene, where she has served her party and nation with distinction, holding high offices in both. Her great skill and unstinting effort in the service of her country have earned her the gratitude of our nation.

Justin Dart:

And it will be received by Mrs. Justin Dart, his wife.

A leading entrepreneur, Justin Dart has made vital contributions to America that will long be remembered. Considered a revolutionary by his trade, he was already head of the largest drug company in the world at the age of 35, and his sure hand would soon transform the business. Justin Dart became a leading force in politics and an adviser to the President, valued not only for his business acumen but his courageous championing of political and economic liberty. Justin Dart's life stands as eloquent testimony to the creative force of freedom.

Danny Kaye:

And it will be received by his daughter, Miss Dena Kaye.

An entertainer, humanitarian, and an individual who lifted the spirit of his fellow countrymen, his enthusiasm for life infected all who saw him. He spread laughter and good will, touching the hearts of people throughout the world, especially young people. He was a true professional, a star of film, stage, television, and radio. His dedication to helping less fortunate children is also remembered. He was a good man, a pro who cared, an example of the best in America's soul. And he will always be remembered around the world by millions of children for his unselfish willingness to serve every time the U.N. called upon him to do so.

Lyman L. Lemnitzer:

A brave and dedicated military officer who served our nation in peace and war, General Lemnitzer's skill as a tactician, planner, and negotiator was instrumental in the Second World War. He fought in Korea, he served as U.S. commander in chief in Europe, and eventually became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His life has been one marked by high military skill and unselfish devotion to his country.

John A. McCone:

As Director of Central Intelligence between 1961 and 1965, John A. McCone guided our nation's intelligence community through some of its most difficult hours. He strengthened the Nation's critical capacity for effective intelligence operations, maintained the intelligence community's reputation for unbiased analysis, and played an active role in policy debates. Integrity, patriotism-these qualities have marked his long and distinguished service to our nation.

Frederick D. Patterson:

For five decades, as president and president emeritus of Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Frederick D. Patterson has been one of America's outstanding educators. He is also the founder of the United Negro College Fund and the College Endowment Funding Plan, and through these, he has helped finance excellence throughout America's community of historically black colleges. By his inspiring example of personal excellence and unselfish dedication, he has taught the Nation that, in this land of freedom, no mind should be allowed to go to waste.

Nathan Perlmutter:

And his will be received by his wife, Ruth Perlmutter.

In the "Diary of a Cancer Patient," Nathan Perlmutter wrote: "Funny what I feel I've accomplished. I married the prettiest girl. I made it to marine infantry officer, wrote a few books, and became director of the Anti-Defamation League." That casual, self-deprecating voice is the voice of a hero. For Mr. Perlmutter has made it his life's work to champion human dignity. He is a hero indeed, a hero of the human spirit.

Mstislav Rostropovich:

He once jokingly asked his mother why she had carried him longer than the usual 9 months. "Slava," she answered, "to give you such beautiful hands." Performing, teaching, and conducting, the beautiful hands of Mstislav Rostropovich have shared with millions his passion for music, especially the music of the homeland he has never ceased to love. He is a virtuoso not only of music but of heart and mind, as well.

William B. Walsh, M.D.:

Dr. William B. Walsh has spent a lifetime giving hope to others. For 14 years, in ports around the world, millions cheered the ship that Dr. Walsh's dreams launched, the S.S. Hope. Medical care and training—these were the Hope's cargo, together with a message of good will from all Americans. Today Project HOPE has stepped ashore, and Dr. Walsh is reaching people wherever there is need and, as always, is giving of himself so that others might find hope. He is a credit to his profession and to his country.

Meredith Willson:

And his will be received by Mrs. Willson.

Our country knows Meredith Willson as the composer-lyricist whose musicals and songs captured the joy and innocence of America. Meredith Willson's career embraced the musical life of his nation. His greatest hits, "The Music Man" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," will forever stand as landmarks of the Broadway stage. As one critic said: "His music is as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration." He will always be remembered affectionately and with respect for his virtuosity as our music man.

And I will always remember him, because as an old ex-lieutenant of horse cavalry in World War II, he wrote a song for the cavalry.

I know that you're as proud as we are to have all of these people with us. And that concludes our ceremony here, but it doesn't conclude our feeling of thanks for these people and what they've done.

Note: The President spoke at 1:14 p.m. in the East Room at the White House following a luncheon for the recipients and their guests.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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