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Senator John Kerry: Distinguished American

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With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Monday, February 28, 2005

Senator Edward Kennedy presents Senator John Kerry with a bronze bust of President Kennedy in recognition of Kerry's lifelong commitment to public service, a career that includes service in the United States Navy (1966-1969) during which he was decorated for combat in Vietnam War; assistant district attorney for Middlesex County, MA (1977-1982); lieutenant governor of Massachusetts (1982-1984); US senator representing Massachusetts since 1984; and Democratic candidate for US president in 2004. The Kennedy Library Foundation's Distinguished American series invites men and women who have played significant roles in American public affairs to share their insights and experiences with the public and to be recognized for honoring President Kennedy's call for public service and his belief that one person can make a difference and every person should try. Past recipients of the Distinguished American Award include President George H. W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, Harry Belafonte, James Farmer, Helen Thomas, Congressman John Lewis, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State James Baker, Daniel Schorr, John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Douglas Dillon, Mary McGrory, Betty Freidan, Tom Wicker, Ben Bradlee, Dorothy Height, George Reedy, Liz Carpenter, Myer Feldman, Nicholas Katzenbach, McGeorge Bundy, David Broder, Stewart Udall, Archibald Cox, Marian Wright Edelman, Congressman Joe Moakley, Diane Nash, Sargent Shriver, and Kenneth Feinberg.

John Kerry was born on December 11, 1943 at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. Not long after John Kerry was born, the family settled in Massachusetts. As he was graduating from Yale, John Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam, because, as he later said, "it was the right thing to do." He believed that to whom much is given, much is required. John Kerry served two tours of duty. On his second tour, he volunteered to serve on a Swift Boat in the river deltas, one of the most dangerous assignments of the war. For his leadership, courage, and sacrifice under fire, he was decorated with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V, and three Purple Hearts. Later, John Kerry accepted another tour of duty - to serve in America's communities. He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1982. In that office, he organized the nation's Governors to combat the acid rain that was polluting lakes, rivers, and the nation's water supply. Two years later, he was elected to the United States Senate and he has won reelection three-times since. He is now serving his fourth term, after winning again in 2002 by the largest margin in Massachusetts history. John Kerry entered the Senate with a reputation as a man of conviction. He confirmed that reputation by taking bold decisions on important issues. He helped provide health insurance for millions of low-income children. He has fought to improve public education, protect our natural environment, and strengthen our economy. He has been praised as one of the leading environmentalists in the Senate, who stopped President Bush's plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2003, John Kerry announced that he would be a candidate for president of the United States -- and he went on to mount a come from behind campaign that won the Democratic nomination. The American people reminded him once again that people are the same wherever you go, and he continues in the United States Senate fighting for what motivated him to enter public life in the first place: love of country and the call of duty.
Edward M. Kennedy was the third longest-serving member of the United States Senate in American history. Voters of Massachusetts elected him to the Senate nine times: a record matched by only one other Senator. The scholar Thomas Mann said his time in the Senate was "an amazing and endurable presence. You want to go back to the 19th century to find parallels, but you won't find parallels." President Barak Obama has described his breathtaking span of accomplishment: "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health, and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts." He fought for and won battles on voting rights, education, immigration reform, the minimum wage, national service, the nation's first major legislation to combat AIDS, and equality for minorities, women, the disabled and gay Americans. He called health care "the cause of my life", and succeeded in bringing quality and affordable health care for countless Americans, including children, seniors and Americans with disabilities. Until the end he was working tirelessly to achieve historic national health reform. He was an opponent of the Vietnam War and an early champion of the war's refugees. He was a powerful yet lonely voice from the beginning against the invasion of Iraq. He stood for human rights abroad (from Chile to the former Soviet Union) and was a leader in the cause of poverty relief for the poorest nations of Africa and the world. He believed in a strong national defense and he also unceasingly pursued and advanced the work of nuclear arms control. He was considered the conscience of his party, and also the Senate's master of forging compromise with the other party. Known as the 'Lion of the Senate', Senator Kennedy was widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to legislate. Senator Kennedy was Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Previously he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and served on that committee for many years. He also served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. He was a leader of the Congressional Friends of Ireland and helped lead the way toward peace on that island. He was a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Virginia Law School. He lived in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, with his wife Vicki. He is survived by her and their five children Kara, Edward Jr., and Patrick Kennedy, and Curran and Caroline Raclin, and his sister Jean Kennedy Smith
Tom Oliphant, moderator, is a former columnist for The Boston Globe. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who has covered countless political stories and appears frequently as a television commentator.