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George H. W. Bush to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

The former president and 14 others, including author Maya Angelou and holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, will be awarded the highest civilian honor by President Obama.

November 17, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — President Obama will honor a baseball hall of famer, the German head of state, a billionaire philanthropist and one of his predecessors with the nation's highest civilian honor, the White House announced Wednesday.

In total, 15 individuals have been chosen to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to those 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."

Atop the list is George H. W. Bush, a Republican who served as the nation's 41st president — a gesture of bipartisanship from the 44th president, a Democrat. The White House highlighted Bush's government and military service, and also his work to raise money along with former President Bill Clinton for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck in 2004.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be honored as the first woman to hold her post, and the first East German to lead the nation since it was unified 20 years ago.

The award will be given posthumously to Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist who lived and worked in Afghanistan for decades providing medical care through the International Assistance Mission. He and nine others were killed earlier this year during a humanitarian mission by the Taliban, the White House said.

Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon; Maya Angelou, renowned author and poet; Warren Buffett, the so-called "Oracle from Omaha"; artist Jasper Johns; and holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein will also be honored, as will sports greats Stan Musial and Bill Russell.

While Obama crossed the aisle in honoring Bush, he also will fete a longtime Democratic Party ally, former AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney. John H. Adams, who co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970, also will receive the medal.

Yo-Yo Ma, considered the world's greatest living cellist; civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez; and philanthropist and American diplomat Jean Kennedy Smith will also be awarded.

"These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they've excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place," Obama said in a statement.

Obama honored 16 individuals in 2009, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, tennis great Billie Jean King and late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

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