WASHINGTON (AP) — Honoring the legacy of John F. Kennedy, President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the assassinated president’s gravesite as a nation remembers that terrible day in Dallas a half-century ago Friday.
Obama also recognized a group of distinguished Americans — including Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey — with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award created by Kennedy.
Obama was joined at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday by Clinton, and each president held hands with Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, as they climbed a flight of stairs to the burial site on a steep hillside overlooking the nation’s capital.
Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, weeks before he was to honor the inaugural group of recipients with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hundreds of notable figures since have received the honor.
Obama lionized the slain president Wednesday evening at a dinner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in honor of the medal’s recipients. He said Kennedy stays in America’s imagination not because he was assassinated, but because he embodied the character of the people he led. Kennedy was defiant in the face of impossible odds, he said, and determined to make the world anew.
“This is a legacy of a man who could have retreated to a life of luxury and ease, but he chose to live a life in the arena,” Obama said. “Sailing sometimes against the wind, sometimes with it.”
As a teenager, Bill Clinton shook hands with Kennedy in the Rose Garden the summer before the assassination when he and other high school students in the Boys Nation program came to Washington.
On Friday’s assassination anniversary, Obama plans to meet privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Peace Corps program, also established by Kennedy.