Press Release

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

NEW ORLEANS (February 21, 2022) The National WWII Museum is proud to announce the 2022 recipients of the American Spirit Award. The award is the Museum’s highest honor recognizing individuals who exemplify the outstanding qualities of the American spirit and inspire the expression of these values through their life’s work.

Honorees will be recognized at the annual American Spirit Awards presented by Hancock Whitney in New Orleans on June 9 and 10, culminating in the formal awards gala on the Museum’s campus. Throughout the two days, awards will be presented to individuals from across the country who inspire others through their own acts of courage, sacrifice, initiative and generosity, particularly in the areas of leadership, service to country and education.

“We are incredibly grateful to honor the 2022 American Spirit Award recipients for their accomplishments and for the tremendous impact they have each made to improve the world around them,” said Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO at The National WWII Museum. “The lessons and legacies of World War II illustrate the positive power of unity, determination, philanthropy and selflessness. As we continue to reflect on what this global conflict means today—more than 75 years after its end—these individuals remind us that the ideals that so many fought for are still very much alive today.”

The 2022 American Spirit Award honorees include:

Rick Atkinson—The three-time Pulitzer Prize–winner and military historian best known for his Liberation trilogy depicting WWII battles that led to Allied victory, Atkinson will be presented with the American Spirit Award for inspiring generations of audiences to understand the history and values of the American experience.

Norman C. Francis, JD (US Army Veteran)—A veteran, educator and civil rights pioneer who was the longest-seated president of any US university during his tenure at Xavier University of Louisiana, Francis will be honored for dedicating his life to public service, civil rights advocacy and the advancement of higher education.

Karen Guenther—Veteran advocate and Founder, President and CEO of Semper Fi & America’s Fund, Guenther’s ongoing service to our nation’s armed forces, veterans, and military families truly exemplifies what it means to lead with the American Spirit.

Frederick “Fred” W. Smith (US Marine Corps Veteran)—The Founder, Chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation who transformed the air delivery industry, Smith will be honored for his commitment to service as a philanthropist, global business leader and distinguished Marine Corps veteran.

Navajo Code Talkers—WWII veterans and military communications strategists, the Navajo Code Talkers will be recognized for their tremendous bravery, skill, ingenuity and determination in using their complex indigenous language to develop a code used in covert communications during World War II. The Museum will honor the four surviving Navajo Code Talkers:

  • Thomas Begay (US Marine Corps/Army Veteran)—As a US Marine, Begay played an essential role in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Begay later served in the US Army in Korea and worked in the US Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • John Kinsel (US Marine Corps Veteran)—Kinsel saw combat in Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima, where he was wounded. After the war, he worked as an instructional aide at a school in his community.
  • Peter MacDonald (US Marine Corps Veteran)—After enlisting at the age of 15 and training at Camp Pendleton, MacDonald served in the South Pacific and North China. After the war, he had a successful career in engineering and business.
  • Samuel Sandoval (US Marine Corps Veteran)—A US Marine Corps veteran whose story and role as a Code Talker are portrayed in the documentary “Naz Bah Ei Bijei: The Heart of a Warrior,” Sandoval saw combat in several South Pacific battles.

In addition to the American Spirit Award, the 2022 American Spirit Medallion will be bestowed upon three individuals who demonstrate extraordinary dedication to the principles that strengthen America’s freedom and democracy through unselfish contributions to their community, state or nation. The 2022 American Spirit Medallion recipients are longtime New Orleans City Councilmember and public servant The Honorable Jacquelyn “Jackie” Brechtel Clarkson; activist, educator and Catholic nun Carol Rittner, RSM, PhD; and veteran, educator and business and civic leader Charles C. Teamer Sr., PhD (US Army Veteran).

The Museum will also present its Silver Service Medallion to three WWII veterans who have served our country with distinction and leadership. The 2022 honorees include Pearl Harbor survivor Louis “Lou” Conter (US Navy, Lt. Commander, Ret.), Easy Company member Bradford “Brad” Freeman (US Army Veteran), and veteran of the Women’s Army Corps’ (WAC) all-Black 6888th Battalion Romay Davis (US Army Veteran).

“World War II united the patriotism, resilience and humanity at the very heart of our nation in a resolute fight against tyranny,” said John Hairston, President and CEO at Hancock Whitney. “The National WWII Museum in New Orleans stands as an international tribute to the character and sacrifice that saved the world and to the core values that carry on the unmatched American spirit."

The Museum will also bestow the annual Billy Michal Student Leadership Award to one student from each state who demonstrates the American spirit in his or her community. The award is named after Michal — a 2017 Silver Service Medallion winner — who was just a child during World War II. At the age of 6 years old, he helped his one-room school win a statewide scrap metal-collection contest during the war, proving that every citizen could contribute to victory in the war. The students who receive the honor have a strong record of volunteerism, school and community activism, and implementing creative solutions to recognized problems. The Museum is accepting nominations for the 2022 Billy Michal Student Leadership Award through March 18, 2022.

For details on the 2022 American Spirit Awards presented by Hancock Whitney or for sponsorship information, visit

The National WWII Museum adheres to all city, state, and federal COVID-19 protocols. The Museum fundraising team will be in touch with all attendees in late spring to share updates on the latest protocols that will be in effect for American Spirit Awards. At this time, the City of New Orleans requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination (two doses of a two-dose vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) or a negative COVID-19 PCR/antigen test (taken within 72 hours) for entry to events. When not actively eating or drinking, guests are required to wear a mask indoors. For more information, please 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, the 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