President Barack Obama calls it one of his favorite events of the year. The awarding of America's highest civilian honor: The Medal of Freedom.
"A philanthropist is a lover of humanity and there's no word that fits warren better. I should point out, he is so thrifty," said President Barack Obama about billionaire Warren Buffett. "I had to give him a White House tie the last time he came here to visit."
Buffett was honored not just for his investment prowess. He bought his first stock when he was just 11. He was also honored for his philanthropy. He's pledged the bulk of his wealth to charity.
"You pinch yourself. He mentioned the investment from when I was 11," said Buffett. "That was 69 years ago. I didn't think it would end up like this."
Civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis marched with Martin Luther King. Receiving his medal from the nation's first African-American president had particular significance.
"To be honored by the President to receive this medal is unreal, it's unbelievable," said Lewis.
Maya Angelou recited a poem for one president at his inauguration -- and today was honored again by a second.
"As a girl, Marguerite Ann Johnson endured trauma and abuse that actually led her to stop speaking," said President Obama. "But as a performer, and ultimately a writer, a poet, Maya Angelou found her voice."
"For every African who stepped off a slave ship onto an auction block from 1600 to 1865, I accept that," said Angelou.
Jean Kennedy Smith was born into political royalty. Like her brothers, she chose to serve -- as President Clinton's ambassador to Ireland and founder of a non-profit that helps people with disabilities learn through the arts.
"It was awesome really, said Kennedy Smith."It made me so happy to feel I was an American."
Stan "The Man" Musial played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals for two decades, missing one season to serve in the Navy during World War II. Today President Obama said his hustle was matched only by his humility.
"Well it's the greatest day of my life," said Musial.
And former president George Herbert Walker Bush was honored for nearly 70 years of public service from the cockpit of a Navy plane in World War II to the Oval Office at the White House.
"His humility and his decency reflect the very best of the American spirit," said President Obama.
There were 13 honorees in all, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and John Sweeney, former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.