Albright, World War II hero among 13 to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 10:52am

(CNN) -- The first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and a Polish officer who provided some of the first accounts of the Holocaust are among 13 people who will be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.

The medal is the nation's highest civilian honor, awarded to those who make extraordinary contributions to world peace, national interest and security, or other cultural endeavors.

"I am so honored to have gotten the Medal of Freedom," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN's "Starting Point" last month. "It makes me feel very proud to be an American, and that's the story that goes together."

Jan Karski, the former Polish officer who escaped Nazi imprisonment and provided first-hand accounts to the Western Allies of atrocities he witnessed in Warsaw, will receive the award posthumously, along with Gordon Hirabayashi, who defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of the Girl Scouts.

President Barrack Obama recognized Karski during remarks observing Holocaust Remembrance day in April.

"We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts; because so many others stood silent," Obama said. "But let us also tell our children about the Righteous among the Nations. Among them was Jan Karski -- a young Polish Catholic -- who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself."

Also receiving the award are civil rights enforcer and public servant John Doar; musician Bob Dylan; physician and epidemiologist William Foege (who led a successful campaign to eradicate smallpox); former astronaut and Sen. John Glenn; workers and women's advocate Dolores Huerta; novelist Toni Morrison; former Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt; former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens; and ninth President of Israel Shimon Peres.

The award was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.

"These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation," President Barack Obama said in a statement announcing the recipients last month. "They've challenged us, they've inspired us, and they've made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award."

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