The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center

“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.

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