Press Release

The National WWII Museum and Hancock Whitney Announce 2024 American Spirit Award Honorees

Recipients Include the Trailblazing Tuskegee Airmen, Four-Star General Ann E. Dunwoody and Acclaimed Filmmaker Steven Spielberg

NEW ORLEANS (April 2, 2024) — The National WWII Museum is proud to announce the 2024 recipients of the American Spirit Award, the Museum’s highest honor. The award recognizes individuals who, through their life’s work, exemplify the outstanding qualities of the American spirit and inspire these values in others.

This year’s recipients include the trailblazing Tuskegee Airmen represented by Lieutenant Colonel George E. Hardy, four-star General Ann E. Dunwoody and acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Honorees will be recognized at the annual American Spirit Awards on the Museum’s campus in New Orleans on May 23–24. The festivities will kick off Thursday evening with a patron reception presented by Ochsner Health and culminate in the American Spirit Awards gala presented by Hancock Whitney on Friday night.

“The American Spirit Award celebrates those who have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to upholding the values that united the nation during World War II,” said Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO at The National WWII Museum. “The impacts of our honorees’ leadership, dedication and service to our country can be felt throughout American history and culture, and serve as a reminder that fostering these values in our communities today remains as crucial as ever.”

The 2024 American Spirit Award honorees reflect the importance of honoring those who served during World War II, sharing their stories and carrying on their legacies:

  • The Tuskegee Airmen will be recognized for their bravery, accomplishments and patriotism in the face of discrimination. One of the most celebrated units in WWII history, the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen were part of an experimental US Army Air Forces pilot training program that enabled African Americans to fly combat aircraft for the first time in American military history. Numbering nearly 1,000 pilots and thousands more support personnel, these men completed more than 1,500 combat missions and nearly 200 bomber escort missions with remarkably low loss rates, earning three Distinguished Unit Citations among hundreds of individual awards. While fighting fascism abroad, they also battled racism at home and in the segregated military, fighting for their country with valor despite facing discrimination and serving as a beacon of patriotism for future generations. Retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel George E. Hardy, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, will accept the award on behalf of the group. Hardy flew in 21 combat missions escorting heavy bombers over Germany and later served in the US Air Force in Korea and Vietnam before working in the US Department of Defense.
  • General Ann E. Dunwoody, US Army (Retired) exemplifies 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 37 years, becoming the first female battalion commander for the 82nd Airborne Division, the first female general at Fort Bragg and the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command. In 2005, Dunwoody became the Army’s top-ranking female when she received the promotion to Lieutenant General and became the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-4 (logistics). She received her fourth star in 2008. She served as the commanding general of the US Army Materiel Command, one of the Army’s largest commands, until her retirement in 2012. The author of A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General, Dunwoody stands as a role model for all women entering the Armed Forces.
  • Steven Spielberg will be honored for inspiring audiences worldwide through his work to preserve WWII history and advance Holocaust education as a storyteller and philanthropist. One of the most popular and successful American filmmakers in history, Spielberg has garnered international acclaim for his graphic and poignant depictions of World War II in his films like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List and as executive producer of the series Band of Brothers, The Pacific and Masters of the Air. The son of a WWII veteran, Spielberg has supported The National WWII Museum for over 25 years, participating in the 2000 Grand Opening of The National D-Day Museum. He founded the USC Shoah Foundation focused on collecting historical testimonies and writings from Holocaust survivors, as well as the Righteous Persons Foundation, which funds Jewish arts and culture, support for Holocaust survivors and history preservation, and Jewish community social services.

As part of the American Spirit Awards events, the Museum will also bestow the annual Billy Michal Student Leadership Award to one student from each state and the District of Columbia who embodies the American spirit in their community. The award is named after Michal — a Louisiana native and winner of the Museum’s Silver Service Medallion in 2017 — who at the age of 6 helped his one-room school win a statewide scrap metal-collection contest during World War II, proving that every citizen could contribute to Allied victory. The students who receive the honor have a strong record of volunteerism, school and community activism, and implementing creative solutions to recognized problems.

“United by extraordinary patriotism and a deep sense of duty, the Greatest Generation fought to defeat a dark tyranny threatening to change the world. Those brave individuals gave so much to ensure those of us who followed could thrive in freedom,” said Hancock Whitney President and CEO John M. Hairston. “The recipients of this year’s American Spirit Awards truly embody the selflessness, character and core values at the very hearts and souls of those who served and sacrificed in World War II to safeguard our democracy.”

For details on tickets and sponsorship opportunities for the 2024 American Spirit Awards, visit

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on Tripadvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit