WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has honored outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates' four decades of public service with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is the highest honor the president can give a civilian.
Gates' last day on the job is Thursday after 4 1/2 years at the Pentagon.
At a ceremony marking Gates' retirement, Obama called him a humble American patriot, a man of common sense and decency, and one of the nation's finest public servants.
Gates became defense secretary in December 2006 under Republican President George W. Bush. He is being replaced by outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta.