[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H. W. Bush (1992-1993, Book II)]
[December 11, 1992]
[Pages 2184-2185]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medals of Freedom
December 11, 1992

    Barbara and I thank you all very much. Barbara and I are just 
delighted to have you here on this special occasion. Welcome to the 
White House. I'm going to keep this relatively short today because 
afterwards Richard Petty and I are going to take a few laps around the 
Ellipse in number 43--[laughter]--so we've got plenty to do. Mr. Vice 
President and Mrs. Quayle and members of our Cabinet, a special welcome 
to all of you.
    One of the great privileges of being President is being able to 
recognize and honor some of our finest Americans. And that's exactly 
what I'm doing today by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 10 
people who have made extraordinary contributions to our country.
    Today, freedom is mankind's North Star. And I am grateful that more 
people have breathed their first breath of freedom over the last 4 years 
than at any time in history. And the great question of the cold war was 
whether people would put their faith in the state or in themselves. 
Freedom won, and America enjoys the fruits of victory as people around 
the world join in the great democratic experiment that we began some 216 
years ago.
    History honors those people who wrest the torch of freedom from the 
hands of their oppressors. But in America, that torch lies safely in the 
hands of the people. And the Presidential Medal of Freedom honors those 
who carry that torch. And our light of freedom is bright enough to light 
the world.
    Today, every man on the street in Moscow realizes what Americans 
have always understood. It is human nature to be free. And just as 
nature abhors a vacuum, so does human nature abhor the absence of 
freedom. So today in essence, by awarding people from these various 
different pursuits, we celebrate the triumph for freedom, by recognizing 
these 10 American greats who have set an example for the world.
    The Presidential Medal of Freedom was reestablished by President 
John F. Kennedy who tragically did not live to award it. And when 
President Johnson awarded the medal to its first recipients, he said 
that President Kennedy had intended the awards as, and here's the quote, 
``a means of national thanks and encouragement for the selfless effort 
and the brilliant task.'' In a sense he was talking about 
what we refer to here as Points of Light, as a Point of Light, because

[[Page 2185]]

the definition of a successful life must include serving others. And 
America's greatness lies not in its Government but in its people. And 
it's not enough to be free; we must serve each other.
    Each of us, each of today's award winners certainly understands 
this, and each is a great American. Their names read like a roll call of 
American heroes:
    Harry Schlaudeman, a tireless crusader for democracy, who after a 
life of public service came out of retirement 2 years ago to ensure 
Nicaragua's peaceful transition to democracy.
    David Brinkley, the elder statesman of broadcast journalism. His 
record speaks for itself.
    Richard Petty, who rose from humble beginnings in Level Cross, North 
Carolina, to become the king of stock car racing.
    General Vessey, who was the ultimate never-say-die soldier, the last 
four-star combat veteran of World War II to retire. And General Vessey 
came out of retirement to counsel my predecessor and me and to help us 
reach full accounting of all our Vietnam veterans, and he's still 
engaged in this pursuit.
    Elie Wiesel is another type of veteran of World War II who survived 
the Holocaust and still today keeps watch against the forces of hatred.
    Isaac Stern, one of the greatest violinists of our time, who has 
brought music to countless others.
    I.M. Pei, the modernist architect whose work graces skylines 
    To much of America, Johnny Carson was late-night TV. And with 
decency and style, he's made America laugh and think. And Johnny, I 
don't care what you say, I still think Dana Carvey does a better 
impersonation of you than he does of me. [Laughter]
    Finally, two special medal recipients who couldn't be with us today: 
By doctors' orders, Ella Fitzgerald and Audrey Hepburn are unable to 
join us. Ella Fitzgerald has changed the face of jazz since she was 
discovered as a teenager, and she is an American music legend. And 
Audrey Hepburn, whose acting career put her among our most talented 
artists but whose work with the International Children's Emergency Fund 
put her in our hearts. And I wish they could be with us today so that I 
could recognize them personally on behalf of our Nation.
    Today we reward your greatness with America's highest civilian 
honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And you will join the ranks of 
our Nation's greatest public servants, scholars, and entertainers.
    If you'll please step forward to receive your medal as Commander Joe 
Walsh reads the citation.

[At this point, the President and Mrs. Bush presented the medals.]

    Well, I think that concludes our ceremony. And Barbara and I would 
love to greet you all out here. And it's been a great pleasure to have 
everybody here, but a special pleasure to be able to honor the 10 so 
recognized today. Thank you all for coming.

                    Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the East 
                        Room at the White House. Comdr. Joseph Walsh, 
                        USN, Naval Aide to the President, read the