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President Clinton and Oprah Winfrey among Medal of Freedom recipients

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July 17, 2013: This file photo shows former President Bill Clinton speaking in Washington. President Barack Obama will bestow the nations highest civilian honor on Oprah Winfrey and former President Bill Clinton later this year. (AP)

President Obama will award the Medal of Freedom to 16 recipients including former President Bill Clinton and journalist Oprah Winfrey, the White House announced Thursday.

They will join other prominent people to be honored later this year, including musicians, scientists, activists and even an astronaut.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy created the modern version of the medal — the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians — with the stroke of a pen to an executive order. In the five decades since, more than 500 people have been recognized for contributions to society.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” the White House said in a statement released Thursday.

The president decides on the list of medal recipients after reviewing an advisory board's recommendations of individuals who have contributed to America's cultural, security and other public interests.

Others who will receive the medal:

—Daniel Inouye, former senator from Hawaii, World War II veteran and the first Japanese American in Congress. Inouye will receive the award posthumously.

—Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper's coverage of Watergate.

—Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Ride will receive the award posthumously.

—Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana who worked to reduce the global nuclear threat.

—Gloria Steinem, writer and prominent women's rights activist.

—Ernie Banks, baseball player who hit more than 500 home runs and played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

—Bayard Rustin, civil and gay rights activist and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin will receive the award posthumously.

—Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

—Loretta Lynn, country music singer.

—Maria Molina, chemist and environmental scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

—Arturo Sandoval, Grammy-winning jazz musician who was born in Cuba and defected to the U.S.

—Dean Smith, head coach of University of North Carolina's basketball team for 36 years.

—Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and became the court's chief judge.

—C.T. Vivian, civil rights leader and minister.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.