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Bush Presents 2008 Medal of Freedom Awards

U.S. President George Bush has given America's highest civilian honor to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Marine General Peter Pace. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush says General Pace was a skilled and trusted advisor in a time of war.

"He helped transform our military into a more efficient and effective force in America's defense," said Mr. Bush.

Pace was the first Marine to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military, capping a career that began as a 22-year-old platoon leader in the Vietnam War.

"On his final day in uniform, General Pace took a quiet journey to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial," he added. "He searched the names engraved in the sleek granite and then found a spot where he placed the four stars that had adorned his uniform. Along with those stars, he attached notes addressed to the men who died under his first command some four decades ago. The notes said: 'These are yours, not mine. With love and respect, your platoon leader, Pete Pace.'"

As the nation's highest-ranking military officer, Pace occasionally disagreed publicly with senior Bush administration officials over interrogation techniques and Iran's involvement in the war in Iraq. He was not re-nominated to his post in 2007, because Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he expected a contentious confirmation hearing with congressional Democrats.

President Bush also awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dr. Anthony Fauci who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Fauci is one of the world's leading AIDS researchers and has been instrumental in developing strategies for the treatment of the disease and the development of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection.

At the White House ceremony, Mr. Bush also presented the Medal of Freedom to neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and federal judge Laurence Silberman. The president recognized Holocaust survivor and former California Congressman Tom Lantos with a posthumous Medal of Freedom accepted by his wife, Annette.