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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 9, 2005
President Honors Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
The East Room
2:36 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House. Laura and I are so pleased that you could join us on this proud and happy occasion. It's a special honor for us to be in the company of these distinguished honorees. We welcome the honorees, we welcome their family members, and we welcome their friends.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest civil award, and is presented for meritorious achievement in public service, in science, the arts, education, athletics, business, and other fields of endeavor. The award was created through the executive order by President John F. Kennedy, and first presented here in the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson. All who receive the Medal of Freedom can know that they have a special place in the life of our country, and have earned the respect and affection of the American people.
Alan Greenspan, Ph.D., is one of the most admired and influential economists in our nation's history. So you may be surprised to learn that Alan studied music at Juilliard. He began his career playing the saxophone and clarinet in a jazz orchestra. Even then, he showed his mathematical side -- his fellow band members had him fill out their tax returns. (Laughter.) He was on his way to a lifetime of achievement in the field of economics, from Wall Street to the White House, to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
The era of Chairman Greenspan will always be known as one of phenomenal economic growth, high productivity, and unprecedented innovation and opportunity for all our citizens. He is a believer in economic freedom, open and flexible markets, and boundless human creativity. In his 18 years as Fed Chairman, he applied those principles with consistency, with calm, and with wisdom.
As he prepares to conclude his government service, Alan Greenspan leaves behind a standard that will always define a successful chairman: intellectual depth, analytical skill, and credibility beyond question. And he leaves the Fed with the utmost respect and thanks of his fellow citizens. (Applause.)
Like Chairman Greenspan, Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn are brilliant men who found great success in their chosen field and have played an extraordinary role in the story of our time. Thirty-two years ago, Dr. Kahn, an engineer, and Dr. Cerf, a computer scientist, figured out how to transmit data between separate computer networks, and to do so quickly, effectively, and routinely. Dr. Kahn called it "internetting." By developing a common digital language for computers across networks, these two men prepared the way for a technological revolution.
The Internet is one of the greatest innovations ever launched, and even now has vast potential as a force for great good. And it's source of pride to all of us -- it is a source of pride to all of us that this progress was set in motion by two talented Americans. Our economy, our lives, and our world have all been enriched by the imagination and the efforts of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf. (Applause.)
Sonny Montgomery has given the United States a lifetime of service. He wore the Army uniform in World War II, earning a Bronze Star for valor in Europe, and returned to active duty to serve in the Korean War. He's a retired major general in the Mississippi National Guard, and served the people of that state in public office for 40 years. In three decades as a congressman, Sonny Montgomery was a tireless advocate for American servicemen and women -- past and present. His forward-looking spirit helped to equip and train the finest fighting force in the world. And the Montgomery G.I. education bill has helped millions of veterans find opportunity in the nation they defended.
I know from my visits to Mississippi that all you have to say is Sonny Montgomery's name and they still cheer. Folks remember him and love him, and so do our veterans. Sonny, you're a great man. Congratulations to you. (Applause.)
Air Force General Richard B. Myers became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff less than one month after the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. And he was the right man for the job. As the principal military advisor to the President during a time of grave danger to our country, Dick Myers was a source of wisdom, clear analysis, and broad vision. As Chairman, he helped design a thorough and innovative military strategy for victory in the war on terror. During his watch, America and our allies liberated more than 50 million people from tyranny. And General Myers helped set the military on a vital and necessary course of transformation, so that America will be ready to confront and overcome the challenges of the future.
This fighter pilot is a model officer: deliberate, unflinching and calm in a storm. He's respected in every branch and throughout the ranks of our Armed Forces. With his recent retirement after 40 years in uniform, the nation returned Dick Myers in "as-is" condition to his wife, Mary Jo. (Laughter.) He left the service with four stars on his shoulder, and his place in America history is secure. The United States of America is a stronger and safer nation for the integrity and the courage and leadership of General Richard Myers. (Applause.)
The conflicts of this young century demand a clear-eyed understanding of the great dramas and tragedies of the 20th century. And perhaps no scholar has studied that time with as much diligence or intellectual courage as Robert Conquest.
His life began in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, whose evil consequences he would so thoroughly and faithfully detail in The Great Terror, and other memorable writings. The truths he told were not always in fashion. But the cautionary lessons he taught about murderous ideologies and the men who served them will always be relevant. His books have been translated into 20 languages, and there have been times and places when those books were carefully hidden.
Today, the empire he revealed is gone forever, and the works of Robert Conquest are an enduring testament of the truth. This wise and eloquent man is greatly admired by his fellow Americans, and by all who love freedom. (Applause.)
Paul Rusesabagina also bears witness to an evil of the 20th century. He was a hotel manager in his native Rwanda when the horror began to unfold in 1994. That hotel soon became a haven amid the carnage, with Paul, his family, and more than a thousand other men, women and children inside the compound. Without that shelter, every one of them would have almost surely have been killed during those weeks and months of merciless terror. This good man saved them by holding off the enemy with his commanding presence, his shrewd manner of negotiating, and his incredible calm amid the crisis and chaos.
Paul has insisted, quote, "I'm not a hero. I'm simply a man who made a decision to hold on to my family, my life, and my beliefs until the end." But the world came to know the story, and people everywhere can recognize heroism. And we're so honored that Paul is with us here today. (Applause.)
This morning, across the United States, millions of Americans started their day listening to Paul Harvey. (Laughter.) People everywhere feel like they know the man, and his wife, Angel, too. And for so many Americans, no morning, Monday through Saturday, is quite complete without Paul Harvey News and Comment. This tireless broadcaster is up every day before the sun, writing his own scripts and ad copy for an audience tuning in to more than 1,200 radio stations and the American Forces Network.
He first went on the air in 1933, and he's been heard nationwide for 54 years. Americans like the sound of his voice. His friend, Danny Thomas, once said to him, "You'd better be right, because you sound like God." (Laughter.) And over the decades we have come to recognize in that voice some of the finest qualities of our country: the patriotism, the good humor, the kindness and common sense of Americans. It's always a pleasure to listen to Paul Harvey, and it's a real joy this afternoon to honor him, as well. (Applause.)
Carol Burnett is known not just for one voice, but for many -- from "Eunice" to "Scarlet O'Hara" -- "Starlet O'Hara." (Laughter.) All those who've heard it will never forget her Tarzan yell. (Laughter.) Her variety show ran for 11 years and received 25 Emmys. An even higher tribute to the show is that millions of Americans still laugh at the memory of the sketches and characters from the Carol Burnett Show.
True to her theatrical training at UCLA, Carol has also given unforgettable performances in serious roles. Yet, it is far more than talent that has endeared Carol Burnett to the American people. It is her goodness of heart, her sincerity, and the wonderful spirit that comes through. She spent her early years in San Antonio, Texas, where they still think of her with great affection. The same goes for the whole country. Carol Burnett is welcome in every home in America. And she's welcome here at the White House today, as we pay tribute to this noble woman. (Applause.)
Here at the White House, we get an interesting mix of visitors. Already today I've met with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Dalai Lama -- and the Sheriff of Mayberry. (Laughter.) Andy Griffith first came to the people's attention with his gift for storytelling -- and his own life is a mighty fine story by itself. He started out as a high school teacher, and in his amazing career he has gained fame as an actor, and received a Grammy Award for his singing. He will always be remembered for the "Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock." Yet, he has also given powerful dramatic performances in such movies as "A Face in the Crowd."
Looking back on his Mayberry days, Andy explained the timeless appeal of the show. He said "it was about love. Barney would set himself up for a fall, and Andy would be there to catch him." (Laughter.) The enduring appeal of the show has always depended -- and still does -- on the simplicity and sweetness and rectitude of the man behind the badge. TV shows come and go, but there's only one Andy Griffith. And we thank him for being such a friendly and beloved presence in our American life. (Applause.)
A week ago today, the flag of the United States flew at half-staff in memory of Rosa Parks. And in Detroit, at Mrs. Parks' funeral, worshipers heard Aretha Franklin sing "I'll Fly Away." Generations of Americans have stood in wonder at the style and voice of Aretha Franklin. One record executive put it this way: "Aretha is still the best singer in the world, bar none. She finds meanings in lyrics that the composers didn't even know they had." (Laughter.) "She chills you, heats you, affects your soul. It's exhilarating." When Aretha Franklin recorded the song, "Respect," it became the number one hit in America, and she won the first of 17 Grammy Awards.
The "Queen of Soul" has been a singer all her life, thanks to the early encouragement of her mother, Barbara, and her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. They raised their daughter to be a woman of achievement, deep character and a loving heart. And I know they would be filled with pride this afternoon as our nation honors Ms. Aretha Franklin. (Applause.)
Frank Robinson was born in Beaumont, Texas. And though it has been a while, we are still proud to claim this Hall of Famer as a Texan. He first achieved greatness as a member of the Cincinnati Reds nearly 50 years ago. As a Red, he was the Most Valuable Player in the National League. As an Oriole, he was the Most Valuable Player in the American League. He won the American League Triple Crown in 1966, an achievement so rare that only one player has done it since. His 586 home runs make him sixth on the all-time list. His teams won five league championships and two World Series titles.
Thirty years ago, he became the first African American manager in Major League Baseball. He has been named Manager of the Year in both leagues. He serves today as the skipper for the hometown team, the Washington Nationals.
Frank Robinson is a man who leads by example. His wife, Barbara, said, "He believes in rules and he respects the game. He reveres the game." Baseball fans across America will tell you the feeling is returned. In the game we love, few names will ever command as much respect and esteem as the name of Frank Robinson. (Applause.)
Last year in Ohio, I ran into Jack Nicklaus and asked if he had any advice for my golf game. He said, "Sure -- quit." (Laughter.) The game of golf takes a rare combination of raw ability and sustained concentration. Jack Nicklaus earned the distinction as one of the greats early in his career. When he edged out Arnold Palmer at the U.S. Open in 1962, Arnie said, "Now that the big guy is out of the cage, everybody better run for cover." (Laughter.) The Golden Bear went on to win 17 more professional majors, and more than 70 PGA Tour events.
Galleries across the world have admired the intense focus and unyielding competitiveness that Jack Nicklaus brings to the game. They admire, just as much, the man, himself. In every aspect of his life, Jack holds himself to a high standard. He's a great gentleman. And for his skill, grace and class in every circumstance, Americans will always look up to the example of Jack Nicklaus. (Applause.)
Only a few athletes are ever known as the greatest in their sport, or in their time. But when you say, "The Greatest of All Time" is in the room, everyone knows who you mean. It's quite a claim to make -- but as Muhammad Ali once said, "It's not bragging if you can back it up." (Laughter.) And this man backed it up.
From the day he won the Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympic Games, we all knew there was something special about this young fighter from Louisville, Kentucky. And his record of 56 and 5, including 37 knockouts and 19 successful title defenses, hardly begins to get the story. Far into the future, fans and students of boxing will study the films, and some will even try to copy his style. But certain things defy imitation: the Ali shuffle, the lightning jabs, the total command of the ring and, above all, the sheer guts and determination he brought to every fight.
This is a man who once fought more than 10 rounds with a fractured jaw. And he fought to complete exhaustion -- and victory -- in that legendary clash of greats in Manila. The real mystery, I guess, is how he stayed so pretty. (Laughter.) It probably had to do with his beautiful soul. He was a fierce fighter and he's a man of peace, just like Odessa and Cassius Clay, Sr. believed their son could be.
Across the world, billions of people know Muhammad Ali as a brave, compassionate and charming man, and the American people are proud to call Muhammad Ali one of our own. (Applause.)
Our country and our world have been improved by the lives of the men and women we honor today. And now I ask the Military Aide to read the citations.
(The citations are read; the medals are presented.)
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Congratulations to our winners. And now Laura and I would like to invite you to a reception here on the State Floor.
God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 3:18 P.M. EST