WASHINGTON — 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.
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."