Museum Celebrates 2024 American Spirit Awards in New Orleans

Tuskegee Airmen, Four-Star General Ann E. Dunwoody, and Acclaimed Filmmaker Steven Spielberg Bestowed with Museum’s Highest Honor

American Spirit Awards 2024

Top Photo: Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, retired US Army General Ann Dunwoody, and WWII Tuskegee Airman Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy were honored at the 2024 Patriot Awards Gala.

The National WWII Museum honored past, present, and future leaders at the 2024 American Spirit Awards on May 23–24, celebrating individuals who exemplify the outstanding qualities of the American spirit and inspire these values in others—particularly in the areas of leadership, service to country and community, education, and preservation of American history. The festivities kicked off Thursday evening with a patron reception presented by Ochsner Health and culminated in the American Spirit Awards Gala presented by Hancock Whitney on Friday night. 

This year’s recipients included the trailblazing Tuskegee Airmen represented by Lieutenant Colonel George E. Hardy, four-star General Ann E. Dunwoody, and acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg.  

“It’s an honor to be able to recognize these Americans for their lifetimes of leadership, dedication, and service to our country,” says Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO at The National WWII Museum. “Their contributions to American history and culture cannot be overstated. With the American Spirit Award, we celebrate their achievements and are reminded that upholding the values that united the nation during World War II remains as crucial as ever today.”  

The Tuskegee Airmen, one of the most celebrated units in WWII history, were recognized for their bravery, accomplishments, and patriotism in the face of discrimination. These pioneering servicemembers were part of an experimental US Army Air Forces training program that enabled African Americans to fly combat aircraft for the first time in American military history. Hardy, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, accepted the award on behalf of the nearly 1,000 pilots and thousands more support personnel who fought fascism abroad, battled racism at home, and served as a beacon of patriotism for future generations.  

The Museum recognized Dunwoody for exemplifying what it means to lead with the American spirit, making history as the first woman in the US Armed Forces to achieve the rank of four-star General. The fourth generation of her family to serve in the US Army, Dunwoody led a highly decorated military career for 38 years before retiring in 2012, with a list of achievements and notable firsts that helped break down gender barriers in the Army.  

Spielberg, one of the most popular and successful American filmmakers in history, was honored for inspiring audiences worldwide through his work to preserve WWII history and advance Holocaust education as a storyteller and philanthropist. His graphic and poignant depictions of World War II in films like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List have garnered international acclaim, and his USC Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation help support Holocaust survivors and history preservation as well as Jewish culture and communities across the nation. 

The Museum also bestowed the annual Billy Michal Student Leadership Award to students from each state and the District of Columbia who embody the American spirit in their community through strong records of volunteerism, school and community activism, and implementing creative solutions to recognized problems. During their trip to the Museum, these 51 students were recognized on Friday during the Student Leadership Forum presented by Kevin G. Clifford Family and participated in a community service project to help beautify the playgrounds of classrooms of the local L.H. Marrero Middle School.