WASHINGTON — A 95-year-old Crow Indian who went into battle wearing war paint under his World War II uniform has been awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Wearing a traditional headdress, Joe Medicine Crow on Aug. 12 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House. The award was clasped around his neck by President Barack Obama.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite President Barack Obama presented the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joseph Medicine Crow during ceremonies at the White House in Washington, Aug. 12.
“Dr. Medicine Crow’s life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America’s highest ideals,” Obama said as he introduced him and called him “a good man” in the Crow language.
Medicine Crow broke tradition and briefly spoke after Obama gave him the medal, telling the president he was “highly honored” to receive it.
Other recipients this year were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, physicist Stephen Hawking, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and 12 other actors, athletes, activists, scientists and humanitarians.
The president met Medicine Crow during a campaign stop last year when Obama, then a U.S. senator, was adopted as an honorary member of the Crow tribe.
In 1939, Medicine Crow became the first of his tribe to receive a master’s degree, in Anthropology. He is the oldest member of the Crow and the tribe’s sole surviving war chief – an honor bestowed for a series of accomplishments during World War II, including hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier whose life Medicine Crow spared.
After the war, he became tribal historian for the Crow and lectured extensively on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Medicine Crow’s grandfather served as a scout for the doomed forces of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.
Medicine Crow was nominated for the presidential medal by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.