President Bush has honored 14 men and women with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award.  The honorees make up a diverse group, including sports legends and an African hero.

They are honored for their achievements and for their contributions to the nation and the world.

Some are entertainers who brought smiles and laughter, others worked in government or the military, became famous for their athletic pursuits, or touched the conscience of the American people with selfless acts of bravery.

Among them was Muhammad Ali, hailed by the president as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

"It is quite a claim to make," said Mr. Bush.  "But as Muhammad Ali once said: 'it isn't bragging, if you can back it up.'"

Mr. Bush noted that from the day Muhammad Ali won a boxing gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games, Americans knew there was something special about this man who went on become the world professional heavyweight champion and dominate his sport. 

"Far into the future, fans and students of boxing will study the films and some will even try to copy his style.  Certain things defy imitation," he added.

Other honorees included baseball great Frank Robinson, who broke an important color barrier 30 years ago when he became the first African-American to manage a major league team in the United States.

Several well-known entertainment figures in the United States were also among the medal recipients, along with the chairman of America's central bank, Alan Greenspan, and General Richard Myers, who recently retired as the nation's top military officer.

It is rare, though not unheard of, for the Medal of Freedom to be awarded to someone who is not an American citizen.  But among these honorees was an African who inspired America and the world with his bravery in the face of genocide.

Paul Rusesabagina managed a hotel in Rwanda when the horror began to unfold in 1994.  He turned the hotel into a haven amid the carnage, saving the lives of more than 1000 of his fellow Rwandans.

"This good man saved them by holding off the enemy with his commanding presence, his shrewd manner of negotiating and incredible calm amid crisis and chaos," explained Mr. Bush.  "Paul has insisted, 'I am not a hero, I am simply a man who made a decision to hold on to my family, my life and my beliefs until the end.'"

Paul Rusesabagina's story is told in the internationally acclaimed 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda.  After its release last year in the United States, he was invited to the White House to meet President Bush.