MONTCLAIR, NJ - The legacy of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was given the honor he much deserved as he was posthumously bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.
Berra family members gathered with President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House to receive the award on their father's behalf. Larry Berra, received the award on behalf of his father Lawrence Peter Berra.
Obama told the crowd, "Today, we celebrate some extraordinary people -- innovators, artists, and leaders -- who contribute to America’s strength as a nation. And we offer them our highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
Near the time of his 90th birthday in May, Berra fans began to gain momentum in circulating an online petition recommending Berra for this honor, earning over 111,000 signatures.
Athlete Ally, a longtime supporter of Berra, also sent a letter to President Obama recommending Berra for the honor. Berra joined Athlete Ally, which works to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports, in 2013 as a Pro Ambassador.
Berra, a longtime Montclair resident, was described during the ceremony as one of our nation’s most beloved and quotable sports heroes, a world-class baseball player and a great spirit.
He left home to join the Navy, fought on D-Day, and came home with a Purple Heart. As a three-time MVP Major League catcher, he won 10 World Series Championships. As the manager of the New York Yankees, he guided his team and the sport he loved with a wisdom that lives in our national consciousness, and taught us all that we can observe a lot just by watching.
Berra passed away on September 22 at the age of 90.
As he honored Berra, Obama said, "So we celebrate artists, public servants -- and two legends from America’s pastime. What can be said about Lawrence “Yogi” Berra that he couldn’t say better himself?" This resulted in chuckles from the crowd because Berra was also known for his words of wisdom called 'Yogisms'.
Obama continued narrating Berra's life, "The son of an Italian bricklayer, they called him “Yogi” because he sat like one while waiting to bat. And he was born to play baseball. But he loved his country, and at 18, he left St. Louis for the Navy, and ultimately found himself on Omaha Beach. After he returned, Yogi embarked on a career that would make him one of the greatest catchers of all time. With the Yankees, he played in 14 World Series in 18 years, won 10 World Series rings, and three MVP awards. He had, as one biographer put it, 'the winningest career in the history of American sports.' Nobody has won more than this guy. And he coached the game with as much heart as he played it. He lived his life with pride and humility, and an original, open mind."
Other honorees include Katherine Johnson, who worked for NASA; Bill Ruckelshaus, who helped protect the environment; Barbara Mikulski who fought for working families, high-tech, high-paying jobs, and for the prospects of America’s women and girls; Shirley Chisholm, female who ran for President and pioneer in helping to create the supplemental nutrition program that feeds poor mothers and their children; Lee Hamilton, head of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees who helped guide us through the Cold War and into a new era of American leadership; Barbra Streisand, singer/actress who has sold more albums in America than any woman in history; Itzhak Perlman, musician and one of the most beloved violinists of our time; James Taylor, singer; Emilio and Gloria Estefan, singers; Stephen Sondheim, a composer and a lyricist; Steven Spielberg, filmmaker and creator of the Shoah Foundation; and Willie Mays, baseball player; Billy Frank Jr., fought to protect tribal fishing rights and save the salmon that had fed his family for generations and become a national voice for Native Americans; Bonnie Carroll, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, creating a national community to support the families of our fallen service members; Minoru Yasui, who fought for the rights of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Obama continued with praise for the honorees, "We are just reminded when we see these individuals here on the stage what an incredible tapestry this country is. And what a great blessing to be in a nation where individuals as diverse, from as wildly different backgrounds, can help to shape our dreams, how we live together, help define justice and freedom and love. They represent what’s best in us, and we are very, very proud to be able to celebrate them here today."