The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States. It is designed to recognize individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
It was established by President Harry Truman in 1945 to honor service during WWII. President John F. Kennedy revived the medal in 1963 through Executive Order 11085, and expanded its purpose.
The medal is awarded annually, on or near the Fourth of July, and at other times as chosen by the President. Recipients are selected by the President, either on his/her initiative or based on recommendations. The order reviving the medal also expanded the size and the responsibilities of the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board so it would serve as a major source of such recommendations.
Unlike many other US awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom can be awarded to non-US citizens; the first such recipient was a Canadian spymaster, Sir William Stephenson. The medal can be awarded to an individual more than once (for example Colin Powell), and may also be awarded posthumously (for example John F. Kennedy himself).
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is in the form of a golden star with white enamel, with a red enamel pentagon behind it; the central disc bears thirteen white enamel star on a blue enamel background (taken from the crest of the U.S. coat-of-arms) within a golden ring. Golden American eagles with spreaded wings stand between the arms of the star. It is worn on a blue ribbon with white edge stripes around the neck.
A special grade of the medal, known as the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, has the abovementioned medal worn as a star on the left chest; in addition, the abovementioned ribbon is worn as a sash on the right shoulder, with its rosette (blue with white edge, bearing the central disc of the medal at its centre) resting on the left hip.
The medal may also be worn on the abovementioned ribbon on the left chest, with a silver American eagle with spreaded wings on the ribbon (or a golden eagle if a medal "With Distinction").
The medal is presented ceremonially as a neck order.
- Order re-establishing the Medal (http://www.jfklibrary.org/exec_orders/eo11085.html), from the JFK Library
- List of recent recipients (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/two_column_table/Presidential_Medal_of_Freedom_Recipients.htm), from the United States Senate website
- MedalOfFreedom.com (http://www.medaloffreedom.com/), site featuring lists of recipients, citations, etc.
- List of Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients since 1993 (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0002285.html)