UPDATE: Oprah Winfrey, Ernie Banks, CT Vivian Among Those Given Presidential Medal

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UPDATE – November 21, 2013 at 7:22 a.m.: 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Honoring the legacy of John F. Kennedy, President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the assassinated president’s gravesite as a nation remembers that terrible day in Dallas a half-century ago Friday. Obama also recognized a group of distinguished Americans – including Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award created by Kennedy.

Obama was joined at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday by Clinton, and each president held hands with Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, as they climbed a flight of stairs to the burial site on a steep hillside overlooking the nation’s capital.

First lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped their husbands place a large wreath of white flowers in front of the roped-off gravesite of America’s 35th president, which is marked by an ever-burning flame.

Both couples placed their hands over their hearts as taps sounded near a U.S. flag at half-staff before greeting Kennedy relatives, including some who arrived in Obama’s motorcade.

The day of tributes began at the White House, where Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 living and deceased Americans for their contributions in fields ranging from sports and entertainment to science and public service.

“These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us,” Obama said.

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According to The White House, Oprah Winfrey, baseball player Ernie Banks, civil rights activist Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, as well as activist Bayard Rustin (posthumously), were among the 16 Americans receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Earlier:

WASHINGTON — With the distribution of medals to prominent Americans and a visit to the eternal flame that marks John F. Kennedy‘s gravesite, President Barack Obama (pictured) is honoring the slain President’s legacy two days before the nation pauses to remember the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

SEE ALSO: University Of Alabama Sorority Elects First Black President

Wednesday’s day of tributes starts at the White House, where Obama is to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to more than a dozen prominent Americans in fields, ranging from politics and entertainment to sports and science. Former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and the late-astronaut Sally Ride are among this year’s recipients.

Kennedy established the modern version of the medal, the highest award the U.S. gives a civilian, but he didn’t live to make that first presentation. He was fatally shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, two weeks before he planned to honor the inaugural group of recipients. Hundreds since have received the medal.

Afterward, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are to be joined by Clinton and his wife, Hillary, for a wreath-laying ceremony at Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. As a teenager, Bill Clinton shook hands with Kennedy the summer before the assassination when he and other high school students in the Boys Nation program went to Washington.

In the evening, Obama plans a speech on Kennedy’s legacy of service at a dinner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History attended by current and past medal recipients, including baseball’s Hank Aaron, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Kennedy’s grandson Jack Schlossberg is to introduce Obama at the dinner. Other Kennedy relatives are expected to attend, including Robert Kennedy‘s daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and former diplomat Jean Kennedy Smith, a former medal recipient and John F. Kennedy’s only surviving sibling.

Friday marks 50 years to the day since Kennedy was slain while riding in an open car in a motorcade during a visit to Dallas. Obama plans to meet privately at the White House on Friday with leaders and volunteers from the Peace Corps program, also established by Kennedy.

The Clintons’ presence at the eternal flame, where Kennedy is buried, is sure to spark speculation about whether Obama has a favorite in the 2016 race to succeed him.

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former secretary of state, her every move is scrutinized for signs of whether she’ll run. Vice President Joe Biden, another potential candidate, plans to attend only the White House medal ceremony.

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