"What a great moment for me, my son, the world. What you have made possible for so many people defies all reason." LOWELL WEICKER, JR.
Former United States Senator
Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom March 26, 1984
Thank you very much. We're delighted to welcome you to the White House. Over its history this room has been the site of many occasions honoring America's heroes, and today we carry on in that tradition.
During my inaugural address, I noted that those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look. A few months ago, we had a reception on the White House lawn for some of America's latest heroes: the soldiers, sailors, and marines who rescued the American medical students on the island of Grenada. It's a memory that we'll long cherish; seeing those medical students -- some who once had admittedly negative feelings toward the military -- throwing their arms around those brave young men who had rescued them, taking pictures of them, and introducing them to their parents as heroes. All of us can be proud of the courage and dedication of our military personnel in Grenada, in Beirut, wherever they're stationed, domestically or on foreign shores.
This is also a good opportunity to note the heroism of some other Americans who cherish freedom: the people of El Salvador. Yesterday those valiant people braved guerrilla violence and sabotage to do what we take for granted -- cast their votes for President. While the final vote count is not yet in, it looks like the turnout is another victory for freedom over tyranny, of liberty over repression, and courage over intimidation.
We have already heard by phone from so many of our Congressmen who were down there as observers, both Democrat and Republican, and some who in their legislative activities have not looked with too much favor upon what we've been doing. But the calls we're getting back are, all of them, just complete enthusiasm of the heroism they saw there on the part of these people who, in spite of everything, insisted on going to vote.
But these are the very qualities that we're here to honor today in a group of our own heroes -- individuals whose bravery, dedication, and creativity have enormously contributed to our quality of life and the cause of human freedom. The Medal of Freedom is designed not to honor individuals for single acts of bravery, but instead, to acknowledge lifetime accomplishments that have changed the face and the soul of our country. The people we honor today are people who refused to take the easy way out, and the rest of us are better off for it. They're people who knew the risks and the overwhelming effort that could be required, but were undeterred from their goals. They are people who set standards for themselves and refused to compromise. And they're people who were not afraid to travel in unexplored territory.
By honoring them today, we, as a free people, are thanking them. Choices they made have enriched the lives of free men and women everywhere, and we're grateful.
Now, let me read the citations and present the medals to each recipient. And the first is Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.
As a Member of the United States Senate, one of the country's most powerful and influential citizens, and an individual whose character shines brightly as an example to others, Howard Baker has been a force for responsibility and civility on a generation of Americans. In his almost 20 years of service, he has earned the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens regardless of their political persuasion. As Majority Leader of the Senate, his quiet, cooperative style and keen legislative skills have honored America's finest traditions of enlightened political leadership and statesmanship.
As a giant in the world of entertainment, James Cagney has left his mark not only on the film industry but on the hearts of all his fellow Americans. In some 60 years in entertainment, performing on stage and screen, he mastered drama and action adventure, as well as music and dance. One of his most remembered performances, as George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy," was a whirlwind singing and dancing film that inspired a Nation at war when it sorely needed a lift in spirit. James Cagney's professional and personal life has brought great credit to him and left unforgettable memories with millions who have followed his career. Could I add something else? And this didn't have anything to do with the award. As a great star at the same studio where I started, he was never too busy to hold out a hand to a young fellow just trying to get underway.
Now, Mr. John Chambers will accept for his father, the late Mr. Whittaker Chambers.
At a critical moment in our Nation's history, Whittaker Chambers stood alone against the brooding terrors of our age. Consummate intellectual, writer of moving majestic prose, and witness to the truth, he became the focus of a momentous controversy in American history that symbolized our century's epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, a controversy in which the solitary figure of Whittaker Chambers personified the mystery of human redemption in the face of evil and suffering. As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire. The words of Arthur Koestler are his epitaph: "The witness is gone; the testimony will stand."
Although he has never held elected office, Leo Cherne has had more influence on governmental policy than many Members of Congress. Since the late 1930's, Leo Cherne has stepped forward and with brilliance, energy, and moral passion helped this Nation overcome countless challenges. His lifetime devotion to aiding his country and to serving the cause of human freedom, especially through his work on behalf of refugees, reflects the strong and generous character of a man who deserves the respect and gratitude of all Americans.
Dr. Denton Cooley:
In an outstanding professional career, Dr. Denton Cooley has distinguished himself time and again in the field of medicine. As one of this country's leading heart surgeons, he has charted new territory in his search for ways to prolong and enrich human life. His efforts have saved the lives not only of his own patients, but of those of many other doctors who have studied and mastered techniques developed by him.
As a heart surgeon and as a creative, independent thinker, Dr. Denton Cooley is a force for innovation in American medicine.
Ernest Jennings "Tennessee Ernie" Ford:
Through his musical talents, warm personality, and quick "down-home" wit Tennessee Ernie Ford won the hearts of the American people. Ford's music, which revealed his character and soul to all who listened, inspired as well as entertained his audiences. His respect for traditional values, his strong faith in God, and his unlimited capacity for human kindness have greatly endeared him to his fellow countrymen.
America is a Nation richer in spirit because of Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Dr. Hector Garcia:
Dr. Hector Garcia's patriotism and community concern exemplify the meaning of good citizenship. His many community-building endeavors included his work as a founder and first National Chairman of the American G.I. Forum, a veterans' organization which has done much to improve the lot of Americans of Mexican descent. Over the years, he has faithfully represented our government on numerous occasions, overseas and domestically. Dr. Hector Garcia is a credit to his family and community, and to all Americans.
Through his efforts, based on a deep belief in traditional American ideals, he has made this a better country.
General Andrew Goodpaster:
During his long service to his country, General Andrew Goodpaster shouldered heavy responsibility and worked tirelessly with the highest professional standards. His organizational and diplomatic skills helped shape the NATO Alliance and develop American military and foreign policy over three decades. As Supreme Allied Commander of the NATO Alliance, Presidential representative, and soldier, General Goodpaster has earned a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful and diligent public servant. His work has contributed immensely to the security and freedom of his country and to the cause of peace.
Lincoln Kirstein is an author and entrepreneur who has honored and delighted Americans through his enormous contribution to ballet in our country. Through his commitment, two major institutions of American dance, the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, were created and flourished. Developing and fostering appreciation for the arts have always depended on the energy, creativity, and commitment of individual citizens. Lincoln Kirstein stands tall as one of a select and treasured few in the world of American art.
Through his western novels, Louis L'Amour has played a leading role in shaping our national identity. His writings portrayed the rugged individual and the deep-seated values of those who conquered the American frontier. Starting out from humble beginnings, he has lived a fulfilling and adventurous life. An eminently successful writer, more than 100 million copies of his novels are in print, L'Amour's descriptions of America and Americans have added to our understanding of our past and reaffirmed our potential as an exploring, pioneering, and free people.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale:
With a deep understanding of human behavior and an appreciation for God's role in our lives, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale helped originate a philosophy of happiness. Through the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry and his many books, Dr. Peale became an advocate of the joy of life, helping millions find new meaning in their lives. Few Americans have contributed so much to the personal happiness of their fellow citizens as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
Mrs. Jackie Robinson will accept for her late husband, Mr. Jackie Robinson.
As an individual of courage and conviction, and as a skilled and dedicated athlete, Jackie Robinson stood tall among his peers. His courage opened the door of professional sports to all Americans when, in 1947, he became the first black baseball player in the major leagues. He bravely demonstrated to all that skill and sportsmanship, not race or ethnic background, are the qualities by which athletes should be judged. In doing so, he struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom, and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.
Mr. Gamal el-Sadat will accept for his father, the late President Anwar el-Sadat.
President Anwar el-Sadat, as a soldier, led his country in war, but his greatest acts of courage came in pursuit of peace. He captured the imagination of people everywhere by taking the first great step toward achieving a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel. His humanity and sense of responsibility, even now that he is gone, remain a giant force for peace and stability in the world. Anwar el-Sadat was a peacemaker of monumental wisdom and tenderness who will remain forever a hero in the hearts of the American people.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver:
With enormous conviction and unrelenting effort, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has labored on behalf of America's least powerful people, the mentally retarded. Over the last two decades, she has been on the forefront of numerous initiatives on the behalf of the mentally retarded, from creating day camps, to establishing research centers, to the founding of the Special Olympics. Her decency and goodness have touched the lives of many, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver deserves America's praise, gratitude, and love.
Well, that concludes our presentations. And again, I offer my personal congratulations to the recipients. As a representative of the American people, I want to thank each of you for what you've done that has added so much to our lives. Thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House following a luncheon for the recipients and their guests.
As printed above, the citations follow the texts of the citations which accompanied the medals.