U.S. President Barack Obama will present the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joseph Medicine Crow – High Bird, a 95-year-old Native American World War II hero and historian, and 15 other notables on August 12, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor awarded in the United States. By definition, “The Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
U.S. Senators Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Jon Tester (D-MT) nominated Joe Medicine Crow for the high honor.
“An American hero, Joe earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom a long time ago,” said Tester. “His lifetime of hard work, his devotion to the Crow Tribe and his dedication to this country will always be remembered.”
Joe Medicine Crow has already received several significant honors, including the U.S. Bronze Star, the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honor and others.
During World War II, Joe Medicine Crow donned Native American war paint while wearing his American military uniform. He became legendary after stealing some 50 horses from a Nazi war camp. According to lore, Joe Medicine Crow sang Crow battle songs during his heroic exploits.
Grandson to White Man Runs Him, a Native American scout for U.S. General George Armstrong Custer, Joe Medicine Crow served as the Crow Tribe historian after World War II. In this capacity, he published several historical accounts.
Joe Medicine Crow is the last surviving Crow war chief and the first to receive an academic master’s degree. Born on a Montana reservation in 1913, Joe Medicine Crow earned his advanced degree in 1939, studying anthropology at the University of Southern California. Upon enrolling in the U.S. Army for World War II, Joe Medicine Crow curtailed his doctoral studies. Currently, Joe Medicine Crow holds three honorary PhDs.
Books authored by Joe Medicine Crow include All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts about Nature, Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird, Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond, The Crow Indians: 100 Years of Acculturation,From the Heart of the Crow Country: The Crow Indians’ Own Stories, Keep the Last Bullet For Yourself (The True Story of Custer’s Last Stand), The Last Warrior,Memoirs of a White Crow Indian and Native Spirit: The Sun Dance Way.
Apparently, U.S. President Barack Obama was made an honorary member of the Crow Tribe during his U.S. Presidential campaign, when he visited Joe Medicine Crow in Billings, Montana, in August 2008.
Other 2009 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients include Nancy Brinker, Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., Stephen Hawking, Jack Kemp, Edward M. Kennedy, Billie Jean King, Joseph Lowery, Harvey Milk, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sidney Poitier, Chita Rivera, Mary Robinson, Janet Davison Rowley, Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Yunus.
“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,” U.S. President Barack Obama commented. “Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”