Sen. Daniel Inouye and his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye, at Harris United Methodist Church in Honolulu last year.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday named 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

The list includes such household names as former President Bill Clinton, television personality, actress and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, and country music legend Loretta Lynn.

Inouye, who died last December at the age of 88, was a lifelong public servant. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.

“The Japanese American Citizens League applauds the president’s selection of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye as a medal recipient,” said Priscilla Ouchida, JACL executive director. “In addition to being a great American, Sen. Inouye elevated what it meant to be an American.”

“Mahalo to President Obama for recognizing Dan Inouye’s life of service with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “Sen. Inouye deeply cared about Hawaii and our nation, and his many accomplishments will improve the lives of generations to come . Although he carried himself with humility and often deflected credit, there is no doubt his work laid the foundations of modern Hawaii. While no one will ever replace Sen. Inouye, we can all honor his legacy by dedicating ourselves to serving and strengthening our communities and nation.”

The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the first ceremony bestowing the honor on an inaugural class of 31 recipients.  Since that time, more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society have been recognized.

President Obama said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

The 2013 honorees include:

– Ernie Banks, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, who played in 11 All-Star games during his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

– Ben Bradlee, who oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal during his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post.

– Daniel Kahneman, a pioneering scholar of psychology who earned the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.

– Richard Lugar, a former Indiana senator best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. 

– Mario Molina, a visionary chemist and environmental scientist who earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer.

– Sally Ride (posthumous), the first American female astronaut to travel to space and a presidential advisor on space exploration.

– Bayard Rustin (posthumous), an advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a participant in the Freedom Rides, and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

– Arturo Sandoval, a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer who has received nine Grammy Awards.

– Dean Smith, who became the winningest men’s college basketball coach in history during his 36 years with the University of North Carolina.

– Gloria Steinem, a renowned writer and activist who was a leader in the women’s liberation movement and co-founded Ms. magazine.

– Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, a leader in the civil rights movement, friend to Dr. King,  and interim president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

– Patricia Wald, who became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

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