U.S. President George Bush awarded America's highest civilian honor to 10 men and women who have distinguished themselves in contributing to world peace, national security, and culture. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.
In a glittering East Room of the White House, decorated for the holidays, President Bush presented the Medal of Freedom to teachers, historians, a writer, a musician, a scientist, a former Cabinet official, a baseball player and a former Soviet dissident.
Natan Sharansky spent nine years in a Soviet gulag for working to advance religious liberties and human rights in the former Soviet Union.
President Bush says Sharansky remains a powerful champion of the principles that all people deserve to live in freedom, and that the advance of liberty is critical to world peace and security. "Today, the Soviet Union is history, but the world still knows the name Sharansky," said the president. "As a free man, he's become a political leader in Israel, winning four elections to the Knesset, and serving more than eight years in the Cabinet. He remains, above all, an eloquent champion for liberty and democracy."
Also honored with a Medal of Freedom was literacy pioneer Ruth Johnson Colvin, who founded the Literacy Volunteers of America to help foster reading and language skills.
Former university president Norman Francis was recognized for his work with religious, educational and civil rights organizations, including historically African-American colleges and universities. He also helped in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast following last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina.
British historian and journalist Paul Johnson was honored for his work on Judaism and Christianity. Pulitzer-Prize-winning American historian David McCullough was recognized for his biographies of U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt.
Blues singer and guitarist Riley "B.B." King was honored for more than half a century of performances, which have brought him 14 Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Joshua Lederberg received a Medal of Freedom for his work in bacterial genetics and the development of advanced computer technology to assist in the search for life on Mars.
Norman Mineta served as the president's transportation secretary and was honored for what Mr. Bush says are high ideals of service, integrity and courage.
There was a posthumous Medal of Freedom for John Buck O'Neil, an immensely talented baseball player who played during the days of segregation in a separate Negro League, before becoming Major League Baseball's first African-American coach.
"He was the driving force behind the Negro League's Baseball Museum; he was proud to be its chairman," President Bush said of O'Neil. "But he once said: 'It never should have been a Negro League. Shouldn't have been.' Buck O'Neil lived long enough to see the game of baseball, and America, change for the better. He's one of the people we can thank for that. Buck O'Neil was a legend, and he was a beautiful human being."
President Bush also recognized Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist William Safire as one of America's most talented writers, educating the nation and polishing the language, while vigorously defending human freedoms.