Press Release

The National WWII Museum Partners with Whitney Bank to Present the American Spirit Awards in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (June 2, 2016)—On June 10, 2016, The National WWII Museum and Whitney Bank will present the American Spirit Awards in the Museum’s US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The awards gala, which will take place in New Orleans for the first time, celebrates individuals and organizations whose work reflects the spirit of those who served our nation during World War II. The 2016 honorees include New Orleans natives and representatives from across the nation, all of whom have inspired others through their own acts of courage, sacrifice, initiative and generosity.

At the ceremony, longtime Xavier University President Dr. Norman Francis and former Mississippi Governor William Winter will each receive the American Spirit Medallion—an honor bestowed upon individuals who demonstrate extraordinary dedication to the principles that strengthen America’s freedom and democracy. Through their work and philanthropy, American Spirit Medallion recipients exemplify the highest standards of integrity and discipline while making unselfish contributions to their community, state or the nation.

The Silver Service Medallion will also be presented at the June 10th event. WWII veterans Jerry Yellin and Richard Cole will receive the honor alongside Home Front worker Betty Reid Soskin. Museum President and CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller will present the Medallions to the three, who have served our country with distinction and, upon retirement, continue to lead by example. Each recipient exemplifies core values that were critical to the Allied war effort—teamwork, optimism, loyalty and bravery.

“I am inspired by the courage and determination of each honoree,” said Mueller. “Their enduring enthusiasm is a constant reminder of the personal sacrifice and tireless efforts exhibited by servicemen and women during World War II. It's an honor to welcome the recipients to our institution, and we’re proud to recognize their great achievements.”

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman will also attend the gala and provide remarks about the newly established John R. Whitman Normandy Scholars Fund. The scholarship, which was created in her late husband’s name, will provide financial support to students attending the Museum’s Normandy Academy—an overseas educational journey that challenges students to consider the same impactful choices that WWII officers and soldiers did during the D-Day invasions.

“We can think of no better way to honor our father than to give young people an opportunity to be moved by a visit to Normandy, as he and our mother were—with the added benefit of an extraordinary educational experience,” said Kate Whitman Annis, John and Christine’s daughter. The scholarship program is a lasting memorial to John R. Whitman that will provide funding for five students to attend the academy every year, in perpetuity.

The American Spirit Awards gala will be preceded by a patron party at 6:00 p.m. in BB’s Stage Door Canteen. The awards presentation and seated dinner, featuring a specially crafted menu by Chef Donald Link, will follow at 7:30 p.m. The Museum will also host a post-party with dancing and dessert. Proceeds from the gala will support the Museum’s educational programming, including the ongoing development of classroom materials and professional development opportunities for teachers in schools across the country, as well as online experiences that bring the Museum and its research resources to students around the world.

For ticket information and additional event details, visit or call 504-528-1944 ext. 334. Selective biographical details for the recipients are included below.

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 future generations will know 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, it 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, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit

Dr. Norman C. Francis
As president of the nation’s only historically black and Catholic university from 1968 to 2015, Dr. Francis guided Xavier University’s growth both in size and dimension. Through his leadership, the university instituted a core curriculum and was nationally recognized as a leader in minority education. Xavier has been especially successful in educating health professionals. In premedical education, Xavier has been ranked first in the nation in placing African American students into medical schools since 1993. Named by his peers as one of the 100 most effective college and university leaders, Dr. Francis, who retired as president at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 academic year, is often cited for his involvement in the community and for his work on the national, state and local levels to improve education. He has served in an advisory role to eight US presidential administrations on education and civil rights issues, and has served on 54 boards and commissions. In 2006, President George W. Bush presented him with the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Governor William Winter
Long before leading Mississippi as governor from 1980 to 1984, William Winter served as an infantry officer in America and in the Pacific during World War II. After returning home, he began a career in elected public service. Throughout his career, Winter’s mission has been to strengthen public education while championing racial reconciliation as well as historic preservation and economic development. He has served as chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board, the Commission on the Future of the South, the National Civic League, the Kettering Foundation, the Foundation for the Mid South, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Ole Miss Alumni Association. He was a member of President Clinton’s National Advisory Board on Race and was instrumental in the founding of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi. He was awarded the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. An attorney in the Jones Walker law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, he is a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Capt. Jerry Yellin
In 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Jerry Yellin volunteered for the US Army Air Forces on his 18th birthday. Jerry completed fighter pilot training at Luke Air Field in August of 1943. He spent the remainder of the war flying P-40, P-47 and P-51 combat missions in the Pacific with the 78th Fighter Squadron. Captain Yellin participated in the first land-based fighter mission over Japan on April 7, 1945. He also has the unique distinction of having flown the final combat mission of World War II on August 14, 1945—the day the war ended. On that mission, his wingman, Phillip Schlamberg, became the last man killed in combat during World War II. After the war, Jerry went on to write about his experiences during World War II and is the author of numerous books including “Of War and Weddings,” “The Blackened Canteen,” “The Resilient Warrior” and “The Letter.” Jerry is currently working on a feature film about his life titled “The Last Man Standing.” This documentary will explore Jerry's experiences coming to terms with the war and his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Jerry and his late wife Helene celebrated 65 years of marriage and had four children.

Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole
Richard “Dick” Cole is one of the remaining two Doolittle Raiders, the 80 servicemen who struck an early, inspirational blow against Japan in World War II. Cole had completed pilot training with the US Army Air Forces in July 1941, and as a newly commissioned second lieutenant, was eager to serve after the Pearl Harbor attacks. In early 1942, Cole volunteered for a dangerous mission he knew nothing about. Three months later, on April 18, 1942, he was in the co-pilot’s seat of General Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25, bound on a one-way trip over Tokyo on the first American counterstrike of the war. After reaching mainland Asia in the B-25, Cole remained in the China-Burma-India theater for more than a year after the Doolittle Raid, only to return to service there from October 1943 to June 1944. He was relieved from active duty in January 1947 after the war’s end. Cole was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st grade for his service during the war. Cole retired from the US Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Mrs. Betty Reid Soskin
Betty Soskin (née Charbonnet) grew up in a Cajun/Creole African-American family that settled in the San Francisco area after massive river flooding devastated Louisiana in 1927. Her parents joined her maternal grandfather, George Allen, who had resettled in Oakland at the end of World War I. Betty worked as a file clerk in a segregated union hall, Boilermakers A-36, during World War II. In 1945 she and her young husband, Mel Reid, founded a small Berkeley music store—Reid’s Records—that remains in operation. Betty has since held positions as staff to a Berkeley City Council member and as a field representative serving West Contra Costa County for two members of the California State Assembly. She was named a Woman of the Year by the California State Legislature in 1995, and in 2005 was named one of the nation’s 10 outstanding women by the National Women’s History Project. At 94, Soskin still works as a park ranger for the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.