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The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has named local student Jaeoni Amaker of Eagle River High School as a 2022 Billy Michal Student Leadership Award recipient. The national honor is awarded annually to one student in every state who has maintained a strong record of volunteerism, demonstrates school and community activism, and helps implement creative solutions to recognized problems. Each honoree will be recognized at the Museum’s American Spirit Awards program on June 10, 2022.

The leadership award, which the Museum first presented in 2017, was created in honor of Billy Michal, who was a child living in Louisiana during World War II. At only six years old, Michal helped his one-room school win a statewide scrap metal-collection contest during the war, proving that every citizen could contribute to victory. Michal’s achievement demonstrated the positive impact the American spirit could have on the Home Front war efforts, and he continues to inspire students across America today.

“It’s extremely gratifying to recognize students throughout the nation for the wonderful contributions they make to their local communities,” said Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO of The National WWII Museum. During World War II, our country needed everyone to come together for a common goal of securing freedom and democracy around the world. Much like Billy Michal’s contribution over 75 years ago, our student honorees prove that their positive actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference in their communities. We are proud to honor their accomplishments.”

Although new to Alaska, Jaeoni is an active participant in a range of activities at his school, including AFJROTC, Drill, Color Guard, NHS, JLAB, Kitty Hawk Air Society, and Soccer. He also volunteers within his community and has collected donations for the Fisher House, donated to the ASYMCA of Alaska’s Food Pantry, served dinner to Military Families at the USO, and provided visitor services on behalf of Club Beyond and ASYMCA at Alaska’s Annual Salute to the Military. In addition, Jaeoni is currently working on instituting a Military Peer to Peer Club at his school, which will benefit transitioning Military Peers alike.

The National WWII Museum’s American Spirit Awards – presented by Hancock Whitney – is a multiday event consisting of a patron reception, premier gala, awards luncheon, and leadership forum where the Billy Michal students will receive their awards. In addition to the Billy Michal winners, the recipients of the Museum’s American Spirit Award, American Spirit Medallion, and Silver Service Medallion will be honored throughout the event. 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.

Proceeds from the American Spirit Awards will support educational programming at The National WWII Museum, including the ongoing development of classroom materials and professional development opportunities for teachers in schools across the country and online experiences that bring the Museum and its resources to students worldwide.

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. or more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.

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