Obama pays tribute to John F. Kennedy legacy

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, pause during a wreath laying ceremony in honor of President John F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at the JFK gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Friday will mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, pause during a wreath laying ceremony in honor of President John F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at the JFK gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Friday will mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By: Darlene Superville, AP

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.

First lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped their husbands place a large wreath of white flowers in front of the roped-off gravesite of America’s 35th president, which is marked by an ever-burning flame.

Both couples placed their hands over their hearts as taps sounded near a U.S. flag at half-staff before greeting Kennedy relatives, including some who arrived in Obama’s motorcade, before Friday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination.

The day of tributes began at the White House, where Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 living and deceased Americans for their contributions in fields ranging from sports and entertainment to science and public service.

“These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us,” Obama said.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and film director Steven Spielberg were among scores of people seated in the White House East Room for the ceremony, which Obama said is “one of my favorite events every year.”

Kennedy established the modern version of the medal but was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, weeks before he was to honor the inaugural group of recipients. Hundreds of notable figures since have received the honor.

Obama said a few words about each recipient.

Of Clinton, he said the Arkansas Democrat’s presidency marked just the start of his work to make the world a better place, crediting his post-presidency humanitarian efforts as helping to save or improve the lives of millions worldwide.

“I’m grateful, Bill, as well, for the advice and counsel that you’ve offered me, on and off the golf course,” Obama said to chuckles.

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.

Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, didn’t just break the stratospheric glass ceiling. “She blasted right through it,” becoming a role model for young girls, he said.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Obama said. “Today our daughters, including Malia and Sasha, can set their sights a little bit higher because Sally Ride showed them the way.”

Receiving the award for Ride, who died last year, was Tam O’Shaughnessy, who was introduced as Ride’s life partner.

The president made a point of highlighting those who had overcome additional obstacles and stigmatization because they are gay, black, female or Asian. He noted that early in her career, Oprah Winfrey’s bosses suggested she change her name to something more relatable.

“It turned out, surprisingly, that people could relate to Oprah just fine,” Obama said.

Obama planned an evening speech at a dinner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History honoring medal recipients. Among those expected to attend were baseball’s Hank Aaron, singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Kennedy’s grandson Jack Schlossberg, son of Kennedy’s only surviving child, Caroline, was to introduce Obama at the dinner. Caroline Kennedy recently was sworn in as the newest U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Another Kennedy relative expected at the dinner was former diplomat Jean Kennedy Smith, also past medal recipient and John F. Kennedy’s only surviving sibling.

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.

The Clintons’ presence at Kennedy’s gravesite was sure to spark speculation about whether Obama has a favorite in the 2016 race to succeed him.

Every move by the former secretary of state is being scrutinized for signs of whether she’ll run. Vice President Joe Biden, another potential candidate, attended only the White House ceremony.


Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.


Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter @dsupervilleap


  1. Japan and Korea, North Korea, South Korea: Japan has few natural resources, it is one of the world’s most successful industrial nations, due to investment in new technology, and a high efficient workforce….North Korea is a communnist state,with limited contact with the outside world….South Korea is a democracy, with major international trade links….Modern farming methods allow Japan to grow much of it’s own food despite a shortage of farmland. Rice is the main crop grown….Japan eat more fish, than any other nation…In South Korea a quarter of the population lives in the capital Seoul…Most North Koreans live on the coastal plains….Japan is a world leader in high-tech electronic goods like computers, tv, cameras, and cars….South Korea has a thriving economy it provides ships, clothes for world wide export….Both countries have to import most of their raw materials and energy…North Koreans is rich in minerals such as coal and silver…Korea is also known for research, development and finance… Industrial pollution from Korea and China has produced acid rain and pollution in Japanese cities, and has led to people wearing mask to filter the air….Russia regularly dumps nuclear waste into the sea of Japan…In 1995 an earthquake caused great destruction to the city of Kobes….Sharing the knowledge.

  2. Remembering John F. Kennedy: Kennedy Mystique Dominates Hearing for Japan Envoy Post…The Kennedy Mystique dominated a Senate hearing on Caroline Kennedy’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan, as lawmakers spent about as much time praising her family’s legacy as they did asking questions….The daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy would represent the U.S. at a time when the ”Rise of The Asia-Pacific Region may well prove to be the single most transformative geopolitical shift of the[21st] century,”said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat…”I am conscious of the evolution of our relationship,”Kennedy said of the U.S.-Japan Alliance,”and am aware that it’s something my family is emblematic of, and I’m honored by that.”The Asia-Pacific Region is the future in many ways,”accounting for[40%] of the world’s trade, Kennedy said…The Ambassadorship to Japan has in the past usually been reserved for political figures such as former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, former Vice President Walter Mondale,and former House Speaker Tom Foley….Kennedy is set to replace John Roos, a former Silicon Valley Lawyer and fundraiser for President Barack Obama…Kennedy and her uncle, The Late Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, were prominent backers of Obama’s presidential campaigns…The elder Kennedy took Obama under his wing when both served in The Senate and gave Obama’s family a Portuguese Waterdog, Bo, whe they moved into The White House…The Japanese Government has welcomed the Nomination, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga telling reporters in Tokyo today that Kennedy”seemed to speak with great feeling about Japan” during her Senate hearing.”We look forward to her taking up her post and playing an active role in various fields,”Suga said.”In her testimony, she said that Japan and the U.S. have deep ties in terms of politics,economies,culture and strategy and that the partnership has global influence….The Trans-Pacific Partnership, ment to anchor the U.S. within the World’s Fastest-growing economic region and help achieve The White House goal of doubling U.S. exports over the five years ending in 2015….In 2011,U.S. exports to the Asia-Pacific Region were[$895] billion, accounting for[60%] of America’s global exports, and will hit[$1] trillion,”in the not-too-distant future,”Menedez said….Kennedy was asked about Japanese trade restrictions on soda ash and beef. She said there had been a[43%] increase in beef sales to Japan this year.”I look forward to working on that because of its benefit to all of us,”she said…Island Dispute; Kennedy also would contend with heightened tensions between China and Japan, a territorial dispute between the the two historical rivals has promted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to order a defense review and propose the most far-reaching changes to Japan’s military posture since World War 11…To include military to help allies under attack….Sharing the knowledge.

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