The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." —John 15:12-14
“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them.” —Thomas Jefferson (1775)
In 1787, George Washington and the Constitutional Convention delegates composed this preamble: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
For all Americans, and especially those of us who have sworn “to support and defend” our Constitution, securing the “blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity” is more than just an aspiration. It is our sacred duty.
This week, it is our honor to host a large contingent of our nation’s Medal of Honor recipients and other distinguished military guests. These American Patriots have gathered to celebrate the opening of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It is altogether fitting that the Heritage Center was established here, because Chattanooga is the Birthplace of the Medal of Honor. On March 25, 1863, Private Jacob Parrott was the first of six men to receive the medal as members of Andrews’ Raiders, whose valorous acts on April 12, 1862, were immortalized in print and film as “The Great Locomotive Chase.”
Since those first medals were awarded, American presidents and military commanders have, in the name of the United States Congress, awarded 3,527 Medals of Honor to 3508 individuals, including 19 double recipients.
In a nation of some 330 million people, only 71 recipients are alive today.
The MoH Heritage Center is much more than a “museum.” As the name states, it embodies the heritage of the Medal of Honor, which is to say that it honors all past recipients and extends that heritage to the next generation.
As Center Director Keith Hardison notes, “History is what happened, and heritage is what you do with it.” Accordingly, the Center will act as one of the nation’s largest interactive classrooms, one built on an exceptional educational curriculum and supporting a nationwide initiative for elementary-, middle-, and high-school students. That curriculum is focused on six character-trait pillars of the Medal of Honor, those traits that are common to all recipients: Courage, Sacrifice, Patriotism, Citizenship, Integrity, and Commitment.
The Patriotism section of the Center includes the nation’s only female recipient, Dr. Mary Walker, as well as members of Andrews’ Raiders. Citizenship is aligned with George Jordan, a freed slave and Buffalo Soldier recipient, and Spanish-American War recipient Charles Cantrell. Three notable World War I recipients — Tennessee’s own Alvin York, along with Milo Lemert and Joseph Adkinson — are in the Courage section. Integrity includes World War II veteran and native Chattanoogan Charles Coolidge, our longtime neighbor Desmond Doss, and Paul Huff. The Sacrifice section features Korean War veteran Ray Duke and Vietnam veterans David Ray, Rodney Davis, Maximo Yabes, and Mitchell Stout. Commitment is aligned with Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Kyle Carpenter.
Both the oldest and youngest living recipients, Charles Coolidge (98) and Kyle Carpenter (30), will be at the opening this week.
In the middle of the Heritage Center are the Heart of Valor featured recipients, Arthur MacArthur and Theodore Roosevelt.
MacArthur and Roosevelt are the senior members of the only two father/son recipient pairs. MacArthur, who received his Medal for actions on Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, is the father of World War II recipient Douglas MacArthur. Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Jr., was also a World War II recipient.
Also featured in the center of the main gallery is George Lewis Gillespie Jr., who designed the current Medal of Honor in 1904. Gillespie was the grandson of my Tennessee Revolutionary War ancestor, Militia Col. George Gillespie, who fought with the Overmountain Men at Kings Mountain in October of 1780, a pivotal battle in which they defeated and killed Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s notoriously brutal subordinate, Major Patrick Ferguson. Gillespie Jr., though a native of Kingsport, Tennessee, was a U.S. Military Academy class of 1862 graduate who fought for the Union. In 1864, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for running important dispatches through enemy lines in the heat of battle. Notably, Gillespie had siblings who fought for the Confederacy.
All in all, the Heritage Center’s three exhibit galleries combine to form an outstanding educational resource as well as a fitting means for honoring the recipients of our nation’s highest military award.
In 1992, during Ronald Reagan’s final public addresses, he offered these words about honoring our legacy of Liberty: “My fondest hope for each one of you is that you will love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism. May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here. May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism.”
So, how can you help us extend “the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity”? By ensuring that we as Americans “never forget our heroic origins” and by promoting and extending the legacy of all Medal of Honor recipients to the next generation.
Now that the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center is open, I’m charged with securing the next phase of support. This includes raising $5 million for our national educational curriculum, and ensuring that active duty military personnel and their families are able to visit the Center at no charge. I am asking for your help to identify potential benefactors for this next phase. For more information, please link to Patriot Foundation Trust and use Trust Administration Contact link in the middle of that page.
Please consider making a designated gift online or make a check payable to Patriot Foundation Trust (noting NMoHHC on the memo line), and mail to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.
I’ll leave you with these words, which recipient Kyle Carpenter noted on a recent visit are the foundation for his service and sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” —John 15:12-14
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
Join us in prayer for our Patriots in uniform and their families — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way, and for our nation’s First Responders. We also ask prayer for your Patriot team, that our mission would seed and encourage the Spirit of Liberty in the hearts and minds of our countrymen.