Lugar's accomplishments honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sen. Richard Lugar receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Just two days before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a ceremony at the White House honored the 50th anniversary of one of his last executive orders and a Hoosier stalwart was front and center.

Former Senator Richard Lugar received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday, along with former President Bill Clinton and several others. White House veterans say the East Room of the White House has never been as packed as it was for Wednesday's ceremony.

President Barack Obama placed the Medal of Freedom around Sen. Lugar's neck after the following statement was read:

"Representing the state of Indiana for over three decades in the U.S. Senate, Richard G. Lugar put country above party and self to force bipartisan consensus. Throughout his time in the Senate, he offered effective solutions to our national and international problems, advocating for the control of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. Working with Sen. Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar established the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, one of our country's most successful national security initiatives, helping to sustain American leadership and engage nations in collaboration after decades of confrontation. He remains a strong voice on foreign policy issues and his informed perspective will have broad influence for years to come."

The President described Richard Lugar as a proud Hoosier. He was all of that and then some Wednesday.

"His legacy is the thousands of missiles and bombers and submarine warheads that are no longer threaten us because of his work. Our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman," Obama said.

His efforts to contain weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union may be his signature achievement in the U.S. Senate, but it should also be noted that Lugar spent 36 years there, longer than any other Hoosier and in the top 20 in American history. He was a two-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the ranking Republican leader on that committee and a member and former chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Lugar shared the stage with Oprah Winfrey, Ernie Banks, Ben Bradlee and Bill Clinton, but for a short time he had the stage to himself.

"I am grateful for that opportunity to hear the praise and, more importantly, hear how important our work is," Lugar Eyewitness News political reporter Kevin Rader in an exclusive television interview at the White House.

He sat beside and exchanged pleasantries with the coal miner's daughter, country music legend Loretta Lynn, who was also honored Wednesday.

"People who have achieved much more than I have, who are extremely modest and thoughtful and have lived wonderful lives. It's just inspirational to be with people like this," Lugar observed.

While the former Rhodes Scholar is no longer in the Senate, don't think that means he is not passionate about government. He still give speeches about the issues he considers to be important to service groups, CEOs and students, like those in government classes at Indiana University in Bloomington.

On a recent day, Lugar was on campus telling students about his political career and what he thinks is important in public service. Graduate student Mark Strandmark says the veteran lawmaker still has the common touch.

"It's so easy these days to think of politicians as inherently evil or something, so for someone famous and this illustrious comes here to speak to us, I think that's good for everybody. You see the real person behind the politics," Strandmark said.

Lugar's long public service career began in the 1960's on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. Two terms as Indianapolis mayor followed, before six terms in the Senate, where he gained a reputation for working with members of both parties.

"I'm not certain it was ever a complete sense you could work with people safely politically. I think there are always persons who would say there's always a Republican way, a Democratic way, a conservative way, a liberal way, and so forth," Lugar said.

Despite the challenges, Lugar got things done, like the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, which removed depression-era restrictions on American farmers.

He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice and was a major force behind the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program that has destroyed or contained thousands of weapons of mass destruction.

Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton says Lugar never put his politics ahead of getting results.

"Dick has, in all of his work, in support of the security of the United States, the foreign policy of the United States over a long, long period of time, has made this country freer and more secure," Hamilton said.

It also made him a player on the world stage, something evident when Eyewitness News traveled through Russia with Lugar in 2002. He's been to the former Soviet Union dozens of times to certify the elimination of thousands of tons of chemical weapons and more than 7,500 nuclear warheads.

"By the time we were finished, literally changed the situation, mutually-assured destruction, which we use to talk about to one in which there was relative safety for the United States in the world from the nuclear annihilation process. That was a very big change," Lugar said.

Indiana voters decided to change senators in 2012, when Lugar lost his bid for a seventh term. But he will still go down as the longest-serving member of Congress in Indiana history and in the top 20 nationwide.

Lugar's congressional career spanned six presidents, topped by the honor of a Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is even more notable because it will be awarded to a long-time Republican stalwart by a Democratic President.

He now devotes his attention to furthering the work of the Lugar Center. As part of its mission statement, the center "seeks to educate the public, global policymakers, and future leaders on critical issues such as food and energy security, controlling weapons of mass destruction, and effective governance."

Lugar is not the first Hoosier to receive the medal. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden is among the Indiana natives who came before him.

Others being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 include:

-former President Bill Clinton
-entertainment pioneer Oprah Winfrey
-baseball great Ernie Banks
-country singer Loretta Lynn
-former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee
-psychologist Daniel Kahneman
-Nobel Prize winning chemist Mario Molina
-musician Arturo Sandoval
-former basketball coach Dean Smith
-women's activist Gloria Steinem
-minister Cordy Vivian
-retired appellate court judge Patricia Wald

Posthumous medals will be awarded to:
-former U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye
-astronaut Sally Ride
-civil rights activist Bayard Rustin

Obama said Wednesday's recipients remind all Americans of their own potential.