What an amazing group of people honored at the White House today! Those bestowed with the Medal of Freedom included:
Bob Dylan, Juliette Gordon Low, Toni Morrison, and John Glenn topped the list of those honored this day who touched my life and are household names for large swaths of the America public. I get a bit sappy here and say, “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” For me it blows among the trees of campsites where Girl Scouts learn to lead and take charge. The backpacks of older girls are apt to contain a book with a strong woman’s voice on issues of equality and pride in difference. And somewhere within this web of good and proud actions and service, the final frontiers for us expanded beyond the bounds of the earth. There were many honored today, 13 in all, including the four individuals already mentioned in my sappy little tribute.
- Pat Summitt, retired University of Tennessee women’s basketball team coach who lead them to NCAA Final Four appearances, bringing women’s basketball national attention and respect.
- Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to hold the job.
- John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court justice.
- John Glenn, the first American in space to circle the Earth.
- Toni Morrison, writer,
- Shimon Peres, president of Israel. He will receive his medal at a White House dinner next month.
- John Doar, Assistant Attorney General in the 1960s, who actively implemented civil rights laws at a turbulent time in hostile locations.
- William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped lead the effort to eradicate smallpox as a Director of the CDC.
- Dolores Huerta co-founded the organization that eventually became the United Farm Workers of America. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth.
- Folk singer and rock icon Bob Dylan changed the voice of America and captured the sentiments of a vast human rights movement.
- Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, who died in 1927.
- Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. He died in 2000.
- Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He died in January.
Media coverage of the award ceremony emphasizes President Obama’s acknowledgement of the profound impact of the honorees had on him personally. I was moved by the group as a whole. At first I did not understand why the ceremony leapt out to me as significant. Then I realized it is because President Obama is from the same cohort as me. He is member of the later born Baby Boomers, a group called Late Boomers a group distinctly different from the Early Boomers. There have been two other Presidents who were at the very leading edge of the post World War II baby boom; both President Clinton and George W. Bush were born in 1946. President Obama was born in 1961. The Baby Boom spanned 1946 to 64 as officially defined by the U.S. government and 1946 to 68 demographically as defined by birth rates.
The culture of the 1960s and 1970s was extremely different from the Post WWII culture. This collection of individuals honored today probably resonates with a group of Americans who are proud of a very different America than the one to which Romney wants us to return. Geesh, didn’t he ever read Thomas Wolfe? You really can’t go home again.
Anyway, the things I did yesterday were still spinning around in my head when I flipped on the TV today and saw the Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony. I felt a sense of pride beyond militarism or jingoism that I don’t get to feel for my country as often as I would like.
I spent yesterday reading about General Smedley Butler as a way to educate myself about military history. I can’t watch or read about wars since the Korean because it makes me think of my brother who was injured twice in Vietnam in 1968, can no longer walk, suffers from PTSD, and is in real decline and receiving far less from the V.A. than he, or any veteran who served and gave so selflessly, should be receiving. Then last evening I watched Hemingway and Gellhorn on HBO, a great depiction of two important 20th Century writers, within the framework of the Century’s wars that brought them together. Together, this juxtaposition made me consider the elemental nuance of time periods that can be lost if we do not search them out and honor them. No one wins wars any longer. So who writes history? The answer of course is that we do. What we choose to do becomes life, and what we choose to remember becomes history.
I was really moved to see the times within which I have lived most of my life being honored through some of the best people who shaped those times. It made me proud to see people who shaped good parts of my world be honored for shaping good parts of my country and world. It gives validity to my cohort that has so often been besmirched as a ruthless or shallow “Me Generation.” We see our first Presidential representative shown more disrespect than any President since the Civil War. But there is something good happening even though we are living in disgustingly divided times; it is a recognition of the good people who shaped the people who are beginning to lead the world as elders. It is heartening.
The Medal of Freedom was created by executive order of the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, on July 6, 1945. Over the decades it has expanded from being awarded to civilians for meritorious service that aided the security of the United States, as in its first awards to civilians who served in WWII. Amendments to the executive order have renamed it the Presidential Medal of Honor and expanded its scope to include eligibility to military and government personnel, and eventually to extend to civilians who have furthered our national interests in profound ways.
The large hubbub created by the awards ceremony, at least it was large relative to the usual amount of press received by such events, signaled not just an interest in Bob Dylan but, IMO, a changing of the guard. These folks influenced not only Obama, but Obama’s cohort, and that signals a turning of the cultural clock as to whom we as a society consider to be our honor-worthy elders. Lots of women and a rock star folksinger… I can dig it!