MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Writer BILLINGS
A 95-year-old Crow Indian who went into battle wearing war paint beneath his World War II uniform and later emerged as an acclaimed Native American historian will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next month. Joe Medicine Crow will receive the nation's highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama on Aug. 12, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, physicist Stephen Hawking and 13 others. 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. "I am humbled and honored," Medicine Crow said in a statement released by the Custer Battlefield Museum, where he sits on the board of directors. "I sang Senator Obama a praise song, and now I know the song worked." 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 Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Medicine Crow lives with his family in the remote southeastern Montana town of Lodge Grass. His wife died several months ago, his hearing has gone bad, and his eyesight is fading. But Medicine Crow continues to lecture and remains "100 percent there, mentally," said Christopher Kortlander, the director of the Custer museum. Kortlander plans to escort the medal winner to Washington next month and said he expects Medicine Crow to wear his war bonnet to the ceremony. Medicine Crow's voice already should be familiar to many outside the region, as the narrator for American Indian exhibits in major museums across the country, Kortlander said. Medicine Crow was nominated for the presidential medal by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Simpson, who first met Medicine Crow more than 60 years ago, said Thursday that there was "no mystery to how he was nominated. "There's a spectacular background to what he's done his leadership and the war experiences and his love of people in the tribe," Simpson said. At the Aug. 12 ceremony, he'll also be joined by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other world-renowned figures. "The list is long, and it's powerful," said Tester. "It's pretty darned neat that somebody 95 years of age in Montana could be honored like this.” Medicine Crow in 2008 was awarded a Bronze Star and, from the French government, the National Order of the Legion of Honor. He was nominated last year for the Congressional Gold Medal and has honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California and Rocky Mountain College.