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President Obama awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to a shocked Vice President Biden on Thursday at the White House.

Biden and the president had gathered for what the White House had described as a final tribute to the vice president.

“For the final time as president I am pleased to award our nation’s highest civilian honor…” Obama began as a Marine officer bearing the medal stood by.

Biden immediately spun around and wiped his face and eyes with his handkerchief. The president added that he was bestowing the medal “with distinction,” an additional level of veneration that his predecessors had reserved for only three other recipients — Pople John Paul II, former President Ronald Reagan and Gen. Colin Powell.

“I had no inkling,” Biden said after the medal was draped around his neck. “I thought we were going …to toast one another and say what an incredible journey it has been.”

In his remarks, Biden praised Obama for serving the nation with dignity and insisted that he was not worthy of the honor.

“I don’t deserve this but I know it came from the president’s heart,” Biden said.

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