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Obama to visit JFK grave to commemorate 50th anniversary of assassination

Visitors stand near the eternal flame at the grave site of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 29, 2013.
Visitors stand near the eternal flame at the grave site of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 29, 2013.Susan Walsh / AP

President Barack Obama will visit John F. Kennedy’s grave on Wednesday in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, a senior administration official told NBC News.

The president and first lady will be joined by their predecessors former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony Wednesday afternoon, as first reported by the Associated Press. The actual anniversary falls on Friday.

Obama will also be honoring one of Kennedy’s last initiatives, presenting this year’s awards for the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, the highest civilian awarded by the United States. Former prominent recipients of the medal will join the president in a tribute to JFK, who established the modern version of the medal months before his death.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary that President Kennedy signed the Executive Order establishing the medal. He was assassinated just two weeks before he could honor the award’s first recipients. Since then, more than 500 people have been given the award, according to the White House. The medal is presented to those who have made “especially meritorious” contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or cultural and other public and private endeavors, according to the White House.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” President Obama said in a White House statement announcing this year’s recipients in August. “It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude.”

This year, Obama named 16 recipients for the award from the worlds of politics and science to the worlds of music and sports. Those to be honored include Bill Clinton, women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey, the late American female astronaut Sally Ride, country singer Loretta Lynn and Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.

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Obama has planned a speech on Kennedy’s legacy of service at the Smithsonian American History Museum at a dinner with former medal recipients including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, singer Aretha Franklin and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The president will also meet privately on Friday at the White House with leaders and members of the Peace Corps, another program President Kennedy established. The Peace Corps dates back to 1960, when Kennedy, then a senator, called on students at the University of Michigan to serve two years in volunteer service to help people in countries of the developing world, according to the Peace Corps web site.

Within weeks of his inauguration as president, Kennedy signed an Executive Order to establish the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis in March 1961. Since then, more than 210,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries working on issues ranging from health and education to environmental preservation.

NBC News' Kristen Welker and The Associated Press contributed to this report.