Washington, D.C. — The late Senator Daniel Inouye received the Medal of Freedom this morning, in a ceremony in the White House East Room.
The Medal of Freedom is our nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
President Barack Obama presented the medals to 16 honorees or their families. Senator Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye accepted the award on her husband’s behalf.
“As the second longest serving senator in American history, he showed a generation of young people, including one kid with a funny name growing up in Hawai’i, who noticed that there was somebody during those hearings in Washington that didn’t look like everybody else, which meant that I had a chance to do something important too,” said President Obama.
“For Dan, it was never about the honors, it was never about the namings. But I think it is wonderful that people learn his story. His story is so remarkable. So given the Medal of Freedom, I hope it is an inspiration for the next generations, an inspiration for Americans,” said Hirano Inouye.
The medal ceremony comes one day after the Daniel K. Inouye Institute announced the selection of an architectural design team for the Daniel K. Inouye Center at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The center will serve as a living legacy and place of learning that inspires democratic leadership in future generations.
In addition to Inouye, other posthumous recipients of the Medal of Freedom include Astronaut Sally Ride and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
Other medal recipients include President Bill Clinton; talk-show magnate Oprah Winfrey; Feminist writer and equal-rights activist Gloria Steinem; Country music legend Loretta Lynn; Chicago Cubs baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks; Veteran Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman; Former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina; Jazz icon Arturo Sandoval; Former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith; Minister and civil rights activist Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian; and Judge Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
The White House East Room was filled with friends and family of the medal recipients, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill were also in attendance.
Senator Inouye received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the 50th anniversary of the Executive Order by John F. Kennedy that established the Medal of Freedom as a way to honor civilian service.