Obama praised Bush for his more than 70 years of service to his country, saying his life is a testament to the belief that public service is a noble calling.
"His humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit," Obama said.
The president said they all have made important contributions to the U.S.
"This year's Medal of Freedom recipients reveal the best of who we are and who we aspire to be," Obama said.
A local woman, Sylvia Mendez was among the recipients. Her family's civil rights efforts ended school segregation in California and ultimately in the United States.
Other winners include:
- Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
- John H. Adams, co-founder of Natural Resources Defense Council
- Jasper Johns, artist
- Gerda Weissmann Klein, Holocaust survivor and author
- Dr. Tom Little (posthumous), optometrist murdered on humanitarian mission in Afghanistan
- Stan Musial, Hall of Fame baseball player
- Bill Russell, professional basketball player and first African American to coach in the NBA
- Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, a non-profit organization that promotes the artistic talents of people with disabilities
- John J. Sweeney, President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., civil rights activist
The Associated Press contributed to this story.