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49 Years Ago, LBJ Posthumously Presents Medal of Freedom Award to JFK

December 6, 1963: President Johnson (LBJ) presents the Medal of Freedom Award posthumously to President Kennedy (JFK) in the State Dining Room at the White House.

JFK had tragically been assassinated by sniper gunfire one week earlier, and his Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, immediately became President.

Johnson takes the Oath of Office aboard Air Force One, as a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy looks on.

The Medal of Freedom was established in July 1945, as an award for meritorious, war-connected acts or services.

Through an executive order, President Kennedy renamed the award the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom,’ broadening its scope to include persons who had made especially meritorious contributions to “(1) The security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Presidential Medal of Freedom

The medal for the posthumous award to President Kennedy is received on behalf of the family by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

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.

[Various Medals are Awarded]

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.”

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