"Do Your Best,
Keep Your Promises"
By Gina M. Schmidt, Associate Editor,
America`s First Freedom
Former NRA President, Oscar-winning actor and staunch defender of freedom Charlton Heston was one of 11 recipients of our nation`s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President George W. Bush on July 23, 2003.
A Diverse Group of Honorees
At a ceremony conducted at the White House, President Bush honored a diverse group of leaders in politics, arts, science, sports and business. In addition to Charlton Heston, medals were awarded to writer/historian Jacques Barzun, social commentator James Q. Wilson, master chef Julia Child, and the late philanthropist and Wendy`s founder, Dave Thomas. Other recipients included nuclear bomb pioneer Edward Teller, concert pianist Van Cliburn, former Czech Republic president and playwright Vaclav Ravel, former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, the late Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente and the late Supreme Court Justice Byron White.
Prior to awarding the medals, President Bush summed up the achievements of each recipient. Acknowledging Charlton Heston`s great achievements on the screen and on the civil rights front, the president commented: "Charlton Heston is known for his portrayals of the most compelling dramatic figures: Moses, Judah Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, General Andrew Jackson and Captain George Taylor. In the process, Charlton Heston, himself, has become one of the great names in film history. Over more than half a century his talent and intensity have proven big enough to fill any role.
"The largeness of character that comes across the screen has also been seen throughout his life. During Charlton Heston`s service in World War II, his leadership of a labor union, his activism on behalf of civil rights, and his principled defense of the Bill of Rights. Charlton Heston has left his mark on our country as an artist and as a citizen and as a patriot, and we`re honored he is with us today."
A Way of Life
Earlier this year, the membership of the National Rifle Association paid homage to Charlton Heston for his unshakable devotion to protecting our freedom in April at the NRA Annual Meetings in Orlando, Fla. NRA members came from far and wide to attend a special tribute to Heston, who was stepping down as NRA president. In a film presentation honoring his life`s work that evening, actor and close friend Tom Selleck described Heston`s passion this way: "For Heston, individual freedom isn`t an ideal-it`s our way of life, our reason to live, our most precious birthright, and worth fighting for."
Heston has called freedom "intoxicating," saying, "That`s why I so deeply love this great nation and the Constitution that defines it."
History of the Medal
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes individuals for exceptional meritorious service. President Truman established the award in 1945 to recognize notable service in World War II. The medal is awarded to those who have made outstanding contributions to the national interest of the United States or to world peace, or those who have made a significant public or private accomplishment.
President Kennedy reintroduced the medal in 1963 to honor distinguished civilian service in peacetime. The award is presented annually, and the president may select the recipients himself or consider recommendations made by the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board. Unlike other U.S. awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom may be awarded to non-citizens.
Former Medal of Freedom recipients have included Henry Kissinger, John Wayne, Nelson Rockefeller, Anwar Sadat, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and Mother Teresa.
"Do Your Best, Keep Your Promises"
Heston, who starred in such films as "The Ten Commandments," "Ben Hur" and "Planet of the Apes," has dedicated most of his life to civil rights activism and has just completed an unprecedented five-year term as NRA president. He was quite moved to receive the Medal of Freedom, a concept he believes in strongly and protects dearly.
"I am very humbled and honored today, and grateful to President Bush for his generosity in allowing my family to share in this moment," Heston commented. "My life`s work, recognized on this deeply moving occasion, would be nothing had not my lovely wife, Lydia, been by my side all these years. I share this honor with her, and with my children and grandchildren, the next generation of free Americans.
"Thomas Wolfe wrote that America is`... the only fabulous country, where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time.`
"The life of this once-scrawny kid from the Michigan woods, who tried to heed his father`s advice to, `Do your best, keep your promises,` has indeed been a miracle. May God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America."