The Medal of Honor Heritage Center, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, keeps the spirit of the country’s highest award for valor alive in the hearts of the community and the visitors who enter its doors. In February of 2020, The Medal of Honor Heritage Center officially opened its facility, aiming to educate the public about the prestigious medal, its history, and honor those who have received this highest of honors.
I got to do a quick tour before the official opening on Media Day. Located in the heart of downtown, it is a must visit for all. Even as a non-history lover, it was so interesting and made me want to learn more about these Medal of Honor recipients.
You can check their website for all updated requirements and hours at this time.
About The Medal of Honor
Most of us have heard of this military award for valor, but many of us don’t actually know what it is. The highest medal for valor in combat, the Medal of Honor was first authorized in 1861 for Sailors and Marines. In 1862, the following year, the medal was authorized for award to Soldiers as well.
During the first year of the Civil War in 1861, a bill was passed into law that awarded Sailors and Marines with a medal that recognized their “gallantry in action and other seaman-like qualities during the present war”. In 1862, a law was passed that extended the honor to Soldiers, as well, stating that is was “a resolution to provide for the Presentation of “Medals of Honor” to the Enlisted Men of the Army and Volunteer Forces who have distinguished, or my distinguish, themselves in Battle during the present Rebellion”. This effectively extended the ability to award The Medal of Honor to all servicemen (and today, women) in all branches of the military.
The namesake of the museum, Charles H. Coolidge, a lifelong Chattanoogan who, at the time of the center’s opening, was one of the nation’s two oldest living World War II recipients. A park along the Tennessee River in Chattanooga is also named for him.
These are real medals which are on loan from the families of recipients. Different medals are distinguished by several reasons – combat, non combat, and branches of service. It’s humbling to think these were placed on the actual Medal of Honor honorees.
This medal is awarded sparingly, being reserved for those who have made sacrifices that go far above and beyond the call of duty, many times at the cost of the recipient’s own life. From 1861 through today, only 3,400 Medals of Honor have been bestowed upon soldiers across all branches of the United States Military, going to only those soldiers with a well-documented case of valor and bravery during the call of duty.
Local Recipients of The Medal of Honor
As the birthplace of The Medal of Honor, it is only fitting that Chattanooga has fifty-two Medals of Honor attached to it.
These have been awarded for acts of valor that have occurred in and around Chattanooga, including one given to Mary Edwards Walker, the only female recipient of this honor in US history.
Other notable local and area recipients include Desmond Doss for his heroic rescue of 75 wounded soldiers, as portrayed in Hacksaw Ridge, Charles Coolidge, who is still alive, who led a band of new recruits to fight off a far greater number of German soldiers, and paratrooper Paul B. Huff who, during a reconnaissance mission, singlehandedly wiped out several German nests.
In addition, The Medal of Honor has gone to an African American slave who became a Buffalo Soldier.
A Navy corpsman who returned eight live grenades while caring for a patient, and Paul Huff, a native of Cleveland, Tennessee who destroyed a German machine gun nest after making his way through a minefield under heavy enemy fire.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Center Keeps the History, Stories, and Spirit of the Award Alive
Just a few blocks south of Walnut Street Bridge and the Tennessee Aquarium, you’ll find The Medal of Honor Heritage Center. Officially opened in February of 2020, the museum’s grand opening has been a long time. From its roots as a society committed to the honoring of those who have received the Medal and all it stands for in 1986 to its current home and its 19,000 square-foot facility, the museum has made a long journey. However, just like those who have received The Medal of Honor, the museum has never given up on its mission, and today we have this amazing museum that is so much more than history.
This massive institution is dedicated to honoring the spirit of the ward, as well as its recipients, and educating future generations of Americans about the six character traits embodied by The Medal of Honor. Those being patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice, and commitment.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Center features over 6,000 items commemorating the lives of the heroes that the facility honors. Through these pieces, the museum tells the story of these recipients along with their fellow soldiers from the Civil War through today. These collections include a wide variety of items from firearms, uniforms, personal scrapbooks, flags, and dioramas to actual Medals of Honor.
In addition to the vast collection of items at the museum, you’ll find permanent exhibits displaying the history of The Medal of Honor and the wars in which the Medals were earned.
Taking visitors from the actions that led to the first Medals during the Civil War to the War on Terror conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, these exhibits tell the stories of recipients and the wars in which they fought.
The exhibits are designed to take visitors through a living history of The Medal of Honor, beginning with the Center’s orientation theater, where visitors will watch a short video exploring the history of the Medal, beginning with the Civil War.
Various exhibits from the Civil War through our modern-day conflicts, along with kiosks where visitors can stop to learn about the values behind The Medal of Honor give faces, stories, and context to an award that is well known but not necessarily well understood.
The exhibits explore how both wars changed and how civilians learned about them. An exhibit called The Living Room War takes visitors back to the 1960’s when US citizens got daily updates and information via their living room television sets.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Center does so much more to educate the public about this military honor and those who have received it than host displays and exhibits. The Center is also devoted to education and community. Their educational initiatives include the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development Program middle and high school students and Character Club for elementary school.s
These programs are devoted to teaching and reinforcing the values exemplified by The Medal of Honor recipients: patriotism, citizenship, integrity, courage, sacrifice, and commitment. Through the powerful stories of these recipients and a trip to the museum, children learn how to better themselves, help others, and create positive change in their community.
There are opportunities for locals to volunteer and help the Center in its mission to honor the Medal and its recipients and help children reach their full potential. It’s an excellent way to give back to the community and help keep the center focus squarely on its goals.
If you’re planning a trip to Chattanooga, or even if you’re just passing through, take the time to visit The Medal of Honor Heritage Center. With so much history on display for such an important subject, it’s one of the best ways to explore the history of The Medal of Honor and all that it entails.
More tours to consider while in Chattanooga