The Liberty Medal

2017 Liberty Medal Recipient: Senator John McCain


From a family of military heroes, Senator John McCain began his service in the Navy in 1958 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. During his 22 years of service, McCain rose to the rank of Captain. He served as a Navy pilot in the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis and later conducted targeted air strikes in North Vietnam.

On October 26, 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down over Hanoi during a bombing mission. He was captured and spent years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp being tortured by his captors. Despite the torture he endured, McCain refused the opportunity for early release until all of his fellow soldiers were released.

For his heroism, Senator McCain has received 17 military awards and decorations, including the Silver Star, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Bronze Star.

In 1982, McCain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving two terms. In 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He has served in the Senate ever since, winning reelection five times. He also ran for president in 2000 and 2008.

About the Liberty Medal

The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Given annually, the medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. Seven recipients of the medal subsequently have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

About the National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia inspires active citizenship as the only place where people across America and around the world can come together to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. A private, nonprofit organization, the Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling its Congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a nonpartisan basis.” As the Museum of We the People, the Center brings the Constitution to life for visitors of all ages through interactive programs and exhibits. As America’s Town Hall, the Center brings the leading conservative and liberal thought leaders together to debate the Constitution on all media platforms. As a center for Civic Education, the Center delivers the best educational programs and online resources that inspire, excite, and engage citizens about the U.S. Constitution. For more information, call 215-409-6700 or visit

# # #

Past Recipients of the Liberty Medal

2016 Representative John Lewis
2015 His Holiness the Dalai Lama
2014 Malala Yousafzai*
2013 Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State
2012   Muhammad Ali
2011   Robert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
2010   Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister 
2009   Steven Spielberg 
2008   Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet Leader
2007   Bono and DATA 
2006 George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton, former U.S. Presidents 
2005 Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
2004 Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan
2003 Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
2002 Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State
2001 Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General*
2000 James Watson and Francis Crick, Co-Discoverers of the Structure of DNA 
1999 Kim Dae-jung, President of South Korea*
1998 George J. Mitchell, former U.S. Senator and Irish peace negotiator
1997 CNN International
1996 King Hussein I of Jordan and former Prime Minister of Israel 
Shimon Peres
1995 Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
1994 Václav Havel, President of the Czech Republic
1993 F.W. de Klerk, President of South Africa* and Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress* 
1992 Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice (retired) 
1991 Oscar Arias Sanchez, former President of Costa Rica and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)*
1990 Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President*
1989 Lech Walesa, Co-Founder of Solidarity, Poland

* Subsequent Nobel Peace Prize Recipients

Sign up for our email newsletter