National Medal of Honor Heritage Center Opens to the Public

NATIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR HERITAGE CENTER OPENED TO THE PUBLIC -- Community members and recipient families gather at the entrance of the newly-opened museum.

Morgan Snyder

NATIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR HERITAGE CENTER OPENED TO THE PUBLIC -- Community members and recipient families gather at the entrance of the newly-opened museum.

Morgan Snyder, Columnist

This past Saturday, the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center officially opened to the public. Hundreds of community members gathered for the opening ceremony, including recipients’ families and many public officials. Ten Medal of Honor recipients were in attendance, including respective oldest and youngest living recipients, Charles H. Coolidge and William Kyle Carpenter.

Commander Philip Sumrall began the ceremony. His invocation introduced the dozens of distinguished guests and their families, as well as several key donors of the memorial’s funds.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke continued by acknowledging and inviting guests to remember the origins of the Medal of Honor.

Army General B.B. Bell later corroborated Berke’s speech by emphasizing Chattanooga’s legacy regarding the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor was established about 150 years ago by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; the 52 First Medals were awarded in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for acts of valor. 19 out of 24 members of Andrew’s Raiders were awarded the Medal of Honor for their acts of valor displayed in the “Great Locomotive Chase” that ended just outside of Chattanooga. The next year, in 1863, 33 more Medals of Honor were awarded from Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and the “Battle Above the Clouds” on Lookout Mountain.

“Chattanooga is therefore the rightful place, the birthplace, of America’s highest award for valor, because it is here where it all began,” Bell said. “Over 3,000 medals later, the medal’s heritage and its birthplace finally have a home on the very ground where it all started.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger followed Berke with a warm welcome to attending guests. Coppinger thanked congressmen and state delegation who collaborate to make projects like the Heritage Center a reality. Mayor Coppinger also mentioned Chattanooga’s Armed Forces Parade, the longest running in the nation. Thirty-two of all Medal of Honor recipients are from Tennessee, and, before Saturday, Coppinger had only met one– Desmond Doss, Jr. 

“I would say that taxpayers think it’s a great investment to honor our people,” said Mayor Coppinger.

U.S. Army General Paul E. Funk II then took the opportunity to speak on behalf of the men and women who went above and beyond their call of duty to protect America.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the day as a day for Americans to be reminded of their great fortune. Governor Lee intends for the Heritage Center to serve as a reminder for generations to come to recognize the courageous acts of servicemen and women and to remember that these men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice for the country.

“This particular center will add one more jewel to the crown of our great state as we honor the men and women who made this great nation,” concluded Governor Lee.

Major General Bill Raines, Jr., Chairman of the Center’s Board of Trustees, thanked the many donors who contributed to the foundation of the Heritage Center.

“Now, what we’re building is not a building, and it’s not a monument. But, it is a vision; we think it will be a way to honor the past in order to educate and inspire the future,” concluded Raines.

The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center bears Charles. H. Coolidge’s name. Coolidge, now 98 years old, is one of the only two living recipients from World War II. Lieutenant General Charles H. Coolidge, Jr. spoke on his father’s behalf and stated that the Heritage Center is for all who serve and will serve in the U.S. military. Coolidge, who was raised on Signal Mountain, received the Medal of Honor for leading 27 infantrymen against Germany while stationed in France.

“He was always concerned about his men; they were his men,” said Coolidge. “Moreover, my father always understood the human side of war.”

After returning home, Coolidge worked for veterans’ organizations, including the VFW.

“His excitement transcends the building itself,” remarked Coolidge.

Charles Hagermeister, a Medal of Honor recipient, described the educational programs that the Congressional Medal of Honor Society provides. 17,000 teachers across 44 states are trained to teach the Society’s Character Building Programs. The CDP is a character development program that is taught over a six-week span. Central’s JROTC program had the opportunity to participate in the class earlier this year.

The event proved to be an excellent learning opportunity for Central students in the form of volunteer and job shadowing experiences.

Cadet Tyler Mullins, a Senior JROTC student at Central, described his role in Saturday’s event.

“We volunteered with other JROTC students and mainly helped escort public officials and VIP status attendees to their parking locations,” recalled Mullins.

Senior Jacob Sylman shared a similar experience to Mullins, and also helped with attendee parking.

“I think the center will be good for educational purposes. This is what we [Chattanoogans] will have to make our mark in the 50 states,” said Major David Spencer.

The 19,000-square-foot building will feature life-sized interactive and immersive displays telling the recipients’ stories and describing their exemplary character traits. The Heritage Center will also be home to one of the nation’s largest collections of Medal of Honor memorabilia.

The Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center is now open to the public for tours, as of Saturday, February 22. Ticket prices will be discounted for students as well as groups, which is optimal for field trips.