Photo Caption (Pictured left – right): Filmmaker Tom Hanks, journalist and producer Robin Roberts, WWII veteran Paul Hilliard, and actor and activist Wendell Pierce are honored during the Congressional Medal of Honor Society's Patriot Awards Gala on Nov. 3, 2023, at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS (Nov. 3, 2023) — Four accomplished Americans were honored Nov. 3 for their life’s work promoting the values of the United States and the Medal of Honor at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Awards Gala at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. A highlight of the 2023 Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention hosted in New Orleans by the Museum and presented by Stephen G. and Regina Oswald Foundation, the Patriot Awards Gala was presented by The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.
This year’s honorees at the gala included WWII veteran and retired business leader Paul Hilliard; acclaimed actor, producer, director and writer Tom Hanks; broadcast journalist and producer Robin Roberts; and renowned actor and community activist Wendell Pierce. The Society’s awards recognize those who promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation is founded and encourage the six core values of courage, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, citizenship and patriotism.
“The Society is honored to bestow these awards upon these deserving individuals and come together to celebrate ideals of the Medal of Honor,” said US Army Master Sergeant and Medal of Honor Recipient Leroy Petry, President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “These honorees — a WWII veteran and three prominent champions of sharing the stories of America’s legacy of service — truly embody the values our organization works so hard to advance.”
The Society’s highest honor, the Patriot Award, is reserved for individuals who, through their life’s work, have distinguished themselves as Americans dedicated to freedom and the ideals represented by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. This year’s recipient, WWII veteran, entrepreneur, corporate executive and philanthropist Paul Hilliard, embodies the values of commitment, sacrifice and patriotism. At 17 years old, Hilliard joined the US Marine Corps, flying 45 combat missions in the Pacific during World War II as a radioman and gunner in Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers. Following the war and college, he entered the oil and gas industry and founded Badger Oil in Lafayette, Louisiana. Over nearly two decades, he has become one of The National WWII Museum’s most ardent advocates, supporting its educational mission and the preservation of oral histories and aircraft as well as serving as Chairman of the Board from 2018–2020.
The Society’s Bob Hope Award, reserved for those who, through their life’s work in the entertainment industry, have distinguished themselves by outstanding service to or positive portrayal of the US military in literature or film, was awarded to actor, writer and filmmaker Tom Hanks. Throughout his career, Hanks has embodied the same American values that motivated WWII servicemembers, inspiring new audiences and younger generations through his creative and civic work. As an avid advocate for the preservation of WWII history and media representation, Hanks has starred in or executive produced several WWII projects, including the highly acclaimed film Saving Private Ryan; the iconic HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific; the upcoming miniseries Masters of the Air; the naval thriller Greyhound; and The National WWII Museum’s 4D experience, Beyond All Boundaries. He has worked tirelessly in support of military caregivers, serving as campaign chair of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Campaign. As honorary Chairman of the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign, he was instrumental in its development into the preeminent museum on World War II.
The “Tex” McCrary Award is reserved for those persons from the fourth estate who, through their life’s work, have distinguished themselves by service or unbiased coverage of the US military through journalism in peace and war. This year’s recipient, journalist and producer Robin Roberts, has made a remarkable impact both locally and nationally through her reporting. A Mississippi native and a Southeastern Louisiana University alumna, Roberts is known for her work with ESPN and as co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. A self-proclaimed “Air Force brat,” Roberts is the daughter of Colonel Lawrence Roberts, who served as a WWII pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen. Roberts honored her father’s legacy by producing and narrating the Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage documentary with her production company, Rock’n Robin Productions; narrating a video on the Tuskegee Airmen for The National WWII Museum’s Fighting for the Right to Fight special exhibit; and is currently producing a documentary on the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-Black WWI military infantry unit. Throughout her career as a journalist, Roberts has reported on different aspects of the US military, including covering V-E Day commemorations and bringing national attention to decorated US Navy Seal Chris Kyle and his widow, Taya.
Actor, entrepreneur, humanitarian and New Orleans native Wendell Pierce received the Distinguished Citizen Award, which recognizes individuals who, through their life’s work, have distinguished themselves as Americans dedicated to freedom and the ideals represented by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Known internationally for his roles in The Wire, Treme, Jack Ryan and Suits, as well as his Tony Award-nominated performance in Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 2022, Pierce is a fierce advocate for his hometown, helping shed light on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and leading the nonprofit Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corp, which has become one of the largest affordable, single-family, energy-efficient developments in New Orleans. He is the son of Amos Pierce, a decorated WWII veteran whose segregated Army unit helped Marines win the Battle of Saipan. To help preserve the legacy of the WWII generation, Pierce voiced Sergeant Thomas McPhatter in The National WWII Museum’s 4D experience, Beyond All Boundaries, and narrated portions of its interactive What Would You Do? experience.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine crafted the menu for the gala, which featured musical performances by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the 82nd Airborne Chorus, New Orleans blues legend Little Freddie King and country music icon Lee Greenwood.
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 nationalww2museum.org.
About the Congressional Medal of Honor Society
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Medal of Honor and its Recipients, inspiring Americans, and supporting the Recipients as they connect with communities across the country. Chartered by Congress in 1958, its membership consists exclusively of those individuals who have received the Medal of Honor. There are 65 living Recipients. The Society carries out its mission through outreach, education and preservation programs, including the Medal of Honor Museum, Congressional Medal of Honor Outreach Programs, the Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program, and the Congressional Medal of Honor Citizen Honors Awards for Valor and Service. The Medal of Honor Museum was established by Congress under the 1999 Medal of Honor Memorial Act and is the official Museum for the Recipients. The Society’s programs and operations are funded by donations. Learn more about the Medal of Honor and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s initiatives at cmohs.org.