Image: Joe Medicine Crow
James Woodcock  /  Billings Gazette via AP file
WWII veteran and Bronze Star recipient Joe Medicine Crow speaks to Barack Obama during Obama's visit to Billings, Mont. The crow Indian chief, who wore war paint beneath his World War II uniform and went on to become an acclaimed Native American historian, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Aug. 11.
updated 7/30/2009 2:51:03 PM ET 2009-07-30T18:51:03

A 95-year-old Crow Indian chief who wore war paint beneath his World War II uniform and went on to become an acclaimed Native American historian will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next month.

President Obama will give the nation's highest civilian honor to Joe Medicine Crow and 15 other recipients on Aug. 12. Obama met Medicine Crow during a campaign stop last year, when the then-candidate became 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 Crow'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 solider, whose life Medicine Crow spared.

He also stole dozens of horses from a Nazi camp and retrieved dynamite while under fire that was used to attack German guns.

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.

He 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.

Tester said Medicine Crow was "an American hero."

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.

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