GARRYOWEN - For Joe Medicine Crow, Wednesday was "it'chik."
That's Crow for "very good."
The Crow warrior chieftain was awarded the Bronze Star with valor from the U.S. Army and made a knight of the French Legion of Honor during ceremonies Wednesday. The awards recognize his service with the Army during World War II.
Medicine Crow counted four coups during the war and became a warrior chief when he returned home. He sat stoically through the events, sometimes accepting the arm of his brother, William, also a veteran, while standing. At 94, Medicine Crow is the oldest living veteran of the Crow Tribe.
"In my old age, I feel that all the things I did in Europe have finally been recognized and given awards for, so I am quite pleased," Medicine Crow said after the ceremonies.
The French consul general based in San Francisco awarded Medicine Crow the Legion of Honor, which he called the highest distinction of his country.
"The French Republic recognizes his great heroism during World War II as well as his outstanding accomplishments since," Pierre-Francois Mourier said. "France has not forgotten - France will never forget - your sacrifices."
Before the presentation, Mourier talked about the land that once belonged to his country. He said France's decision to sell the land that is now Montana "was not the wisest decision, but it's too late now."
Montana was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, in which the United States bought more than 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France for about $15 million.
Mourier read a history of Medicine Crow's life, including his doctoral-level education, his work as a "remarkable author" of five books and his successful government career. He saluted Medicine Crow's wife, Gloria, and noted that they have been married 60 years.
"As we say in French, 'Bravo,' " he said.
Medicine Crow's great-great-grandfather, Pierre de Shane, was French. He came to America, traveled West, married a Crow woman and was adopted into the tribe. While Mourier and Medicine Crow share French heritage, "I can always dream I have Crow blood," Mourier said.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Paul Funk awarded the Bronze Star to Medicine Crow.
Throughout his life, Medicine Crow has shown "the fixed resolve not to quit" and the tenacity of an excellent soldier, Funk said.
Among the other dignitaries was Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who wore a beaded buckskin vest for the event. Schweitzer has been adopted into the Crow Tribe. Like Medicine Crow, he is a member of the Bad War Deeds Clan. The clan got its name after others alleged that the coups they counted in battle were not valid, Schweitzer said. There is no doubt that Medicine Crow's coups are legitimate, he said.
"The coups that he counted on the battlefield in France was counted by the people who were with him there that day," Schweitzer said, and the other coups are a documented part of history.
In a booming voice, Medicine Crow recounted his four coups:
• He led a war party by taking a detail of soldiers, under fire, to retrieve dynamite to use to attack German guns.
"My (commanding officer) says if anyone can get through, you can," Medicine Crow recalled. "That young lieutenant knew an Indian warrior was pretty versatile."
• A photographer from "Stars and Stripes" photographed Medicine Crow as he leaped onto German soil and led a charge.
"I was the first American soldier to jump into Germany and an Indian warrior at that," Medicine Crow said.
• He touched the first fallen enemy and stole his weapon when Medicine Crow and a German met on a street in France. Medicine Crow knocked down the German and kicked his rifle away, counting coups twice.
• He entered an enemy camp and captured horses at a farm where German officers were holed up for the night. Medicine Crow stealthily entered a barn and corral, mounted a horse and, with a Crow war cry, ran the horses toward the Americans.
"I took off for the hills," Medicine Crow said.
"Boy, these were pretty horses, great big thoroughbreds," he said, noting that the Germans used the horses for "showing off and parading."
Enjoying his reminiscing, Medicine Crow said "and another thing," then told of helping liberate a concentration camp near Poland. His unit was in the area when locals told them of the camp. Medicine Crow and his commanding officer took a Jeep to the camp. The guard let them enter unchallenged and they were met "by a Jewish inmate wearing a green and white pajamalike outfit," he said.
The Germans ran.
"The two of us stampeded a bunch of SS guards," he said.
On Wednesday, in Crow tradition, he led the dance while an honor song was performed for him by a Crow drum group. Medicine Crow wore his war bonnet, traded his Army uniform jacket for a buckskin vest and carried a staff with an eagle feather.
Medicine Crow said one of the things he received in a blessing before going to fight in World War II was an eagle feather. He put that feather in his helmet while fighting in Europe. "That was my strong Indian medicine that brought me back," he said.
Schweitzer and Mourier also laid a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Custer Battlefield Museum, where the events took place.
Dennis Clark, the chief of curriculum development for the Center for Army Tactics, presented Medicine Crow with a plaque and announced that his legacy will be passed along in a program for American Indian officers. The college, at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, is near Haskell College, one of the universities from which Medicine Crow graduated.
Letters were read from Montana's congressional delegation, and the Montana National Guard provided a flyover in a Chinook helicopter. Honor guards were provided by the Montana National Guard and the Patriot Guard Riders.
Medicine Crow also has been nominated to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That honor is expected to be bestowed this summer.