ABC News’ John R. Parkinson and Mary Bruce report:
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords honored her husband’s career in the U.S. Navy at the White House today, standing on her own to pin the Distinguished Flying Cross medal on his jacket for commanding the fourth and final flight on the space shuttle Endeavour.
While the retirement ceremony was intended to focus on Capt. Mark Kelly’s impressive career, his congresswoman wife’s presence took center stage as Kelly thanked her “for your boundless friendship and optimism as our family has traveled this road over the last eight months.”
“Gabby, you remind me every day to deny the acceptance of failure,” Kelly told his wife. “I look forward to the next phase of our life together and watching all of your future achievements.”
Photos taken of the Arizona congresswoman attending the ceremony show a beaming Giffords wearing a red jacket adorned by a Members’ lapel pin reserved for representatives. She also wore black pants and running shoes. Approximately 50 guests were seated in the room, which is decorated with the first U.S. flag to fly over Paris after the liberation at the end of World War II.
Vice President Joe Biden, who presided over the ceremony, commended Kelly for leading the shuttle in May and he also spoke directly to Giffords.
“I don’t use the word loosely. You are an inspiration. You’ve been inspirational, people looking, saying ‘I can make it, I can do this,’” Biden said. “You have spoken to the whole country.”
“As vice president I get to work with an awful lot of people who devote their lives day to day to public service,” he added. “But it’s not every day you encounter examples of sheer, sheer courage, selflessness and dedication, like you see in this couple.”
At a news conference later Thursday afternoon, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that it was “really a thrill” to see Giffords.
“I was very impressed,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said of Giffords, who has been recovering privately in Houston from a bullet wound to the head. “I’ve seen Gabby probably about once a month since the eight months since the tragedy, and I was very impressed with the strength of her presence and how she walked in.”
Pelosi, who posted a photo on Flickr of herself posing with Giffords and Kelly, said that the families of both Giffords and Kelly were present for the ceremony, and described how Giffords pinned a medal on Kelly, one of two he received during the event.
“He received two very important decorations and she pinned one of them on him, and she looked great, she sounded great, and it was quite thrilling,” Pelosi said.
One of the photos posted to her Facebook page captured the couple as they embraced after Kelly received the Legion of Merit from Biden in a ceremony in the Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Giffords held a bouquet of flowers and showed off a short haircut and eyeglasses, although her hair appears to have grown out a little since her last visit to Capitol Hill earlier this summer. Thursday’s visit marked the sixth time that Giffords has left Houston since surviving the assassination attempt in January.
“I don’t know if anything will ever be as thrilling, however, as the day when she came to the Congress to make sure that the United States upheld the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” Pelosi said of the August 1 vote on the debt limit. “That day was a day in history that none of us will ever see anything quite as joyous as that, but today was right up there with that.”
In a landmark television event scheduled to air Nov. 14, Giffords Kelly will share their remarkable story for the first time since the tragic Tucson shootings in an exclusive ABC News special with Diane Sawyer.