President Barack Obama on awarded the Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honor the U.S. government can give - to 15 recipients. 

The medal is awarded for meritorious countribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

This is one of the things that I most look forward to every year.  It's a chance to meet with -- and, more importantly, honor -- some of the most extraordinary people in America -- and around the world, Obama said on Tuesday.

President [John F.] Kennedy once said, during a tribute to the poet Robert Frost, that a nation reveals itself not only by the men and women it produces, but by the men and women that it honors; the people that it remembers.  I heartily agree, he said.

The award ceremony February 15, 2011 came several months after the awards were initially announced.



Basketball legend Bill Russell receives the Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing