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8 Given Nation's Highest Honor

Over the strains of Hail to the Chief, Gerald Ford strode into the East Room of the White House shoulder-to-shoulder with President Clinton and was hailed as the steady statesman the country needed after the "long national nightmare" of Watergate.

Twenty-five years to the week after Richard M. Nixon resigned as president, Ford and seven other prominent Americans received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday.

"Steady, trustworthy, Gerald Ford ended a long national nightmare," Mr. Clinton said, echoing the phrase Ford used when he was sworn in.

Ford became president after Nixon left office on Aug. 9, 1974, and served out what would have been Nixon's second term.

"When he left the White House after 895 days, America was stronger, calmer and more self-confident," Mr. Clinton said. "America was, in other words, more like President Ford himself."

The medal is the nation's highest civilian honor. President Clinton awarded it to former President Carter in Atlanta on Monday.

Established by President Truman as a wartime honor, the medal was reintroduced by President Kennedy as way to honor civilian service. Mr. Clinton has awarded the medal to civil rights leaders, philanthropists, entertainers and statesmen.

"In honoring them we honor also the values and principles of our nation's founding and our nation's future," he said of Wednesday's honorees. The recipients did not speak inside the White House, but Ford paused outside to reflect on the events of 25 years ago.

"I couldn't avoid those reminiscences. It was a monumental day," he said. "It was a unique situation as far as the country is concerned and I hope it never happens again."

In addition to Ford, the honorees were:

  • Lloyd M. Bentsen, Mr. Clinton's first Treasury Secretary, who served 22 years in the Senate and six years in the House. The Texan was the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 1988.
  • Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., president of the World Jewish Congress. He has "worked to ensure basic rights for Jews around the world and to fight anti-Semitism and has spearheaded the effort to retrieve the assets of Holocaust victims and their families," according to a White House tribute.
  • Evy Dubrow, an advocate for more than 50 years of laws to improve domestic labor conditions. "She has been influential in numerous causes, including broadening laws against discrimination and protecting American industry from unfair foreign competition," the tribute said.
  • Sister M. Isolina Ferre, founder of community service centers, clinics and programs to empower the poor in Puerto Rico, New York and Appalachia. She gained international recognition in the late 1950s and 1960s for her mediation efforts with youth gangs in Brooklyn.
  • Oliver White Hill, civil rights lawyer. Best known for litigating a landmark school desegregtion case, Brown vs. Board of Education case.
  • Max Kampelman, lawyer, diplomat and negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. "He emphasized human rights in East-West diplomacy," the tribute said.
  • Edgar Wayburn, five-time president and a member of the board of directors of the Sierra Club for almost 40 years.