German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former US President George H W Bush and billionaire investor Warren Buffett are among 15 people who have been chosen for the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour.
President Barack Obama will present the awards to the honorees early next year, the White House announced today.
The Medal of Freedom is America's highest civilian honour presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the US, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
"These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they have excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place. I look forward to awarding them this honor," Obama said.
One honoree is being saluted posthumously. According to the White House, "Dr Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan."
George H W Bush was America's 41st president, and previously vice president and CIA director.
The other honorees are environmentalist John H. Adams, poet-activist Maya Angelou, artist Jasper Johns, Holocaust survivor and citizenship activist Gerda Weissmann Klein, Congressman John Lewis, musican Yo-Yo Ma, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, baseball legend Stan Musial, basketball legend Bill Russell, labour leader John J Sweeney and Jean Kennedy Smith, a longtime activist for the disabled.