Recognizing the True Heritage of The Medal of Honor
Most may know the Medal of Honor as being the highest and most prestigious award a United States military service member can receive, but almost no one is familiar with the real stories behind the individuals to whom it was first given and where it originated. The history behind the first Medal of Honor recipients holds an important significance in recognizing its heritage and meaning behind the award itself, and sets the tone for those to receive the award for years to come.
So where will you find the first recipients of the Medal of Honor? Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The First Awarded Acts of Valor
It was on March 25, 1863 that the first Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award for valor, was presented to Private Jacob Parrott for his part in “The Great Locomotive Chase” that ended just outside of Chattanooga, TN. Ultimately, 19 of the 24 members of Andrews’ Raiders were awarded the Medal of Honor for their incredible acts of valor on April 12, 1862. The following year, the Chattanooga area would become hallowed ground where an additional 33 Medals of Honor awards were earned – from Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge to the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” on Lookout Mountain.
Within just two years of its inception, the Medal of Honor was given to more than 50 military members that had fought or originated from Chattanooga.
These first acts of valor created an important heritage that has been entrusted to Chattanooga to preserve as the Birthplace of the Medal of Honor. These many historic connections are why Chattanooga is the ideal location for the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center (Heritage Center).
From 1862 to 2019, The Significance Behind The Medal of Honor Still Applies
While the Medal of Honor heritage starts in Chattanooga, its story is one that resonates nationwide. Every recipient has a narrative that is relevant to what we do – whether it be on a battlefield, in a boardroom, on a school playground or in everyday life.
These stories serve as a testament of how ordinary people can rise up and accomplish extraordinary things under some of life’s most extreme circumstances. They also provide the ideal role models to teach future generations about the six character traits that embody their gallantry: Patriotism, Citizenship, Courage, Integrity, Sacrifice and Commitment.
Their Stories Become Our Stories
There are plenty of “museums” across America focused on displaying relics that have no real application to our lives today, but The Heritage Center strives to be something different. The focus is not on ‘things of the past’ but instead on the real-life stories of ordinary people who demonstrated extraordinary heroics under the most difficult circumstances. The goal of the Heritage Center is to educate, inspire and invite people to become part of these stories in a very engaging and interactive way that they have never done before.
One such story is that of Arthur MacArthur, an 18-year-old lieutenant who seized his regiment’s fallen flag
during the fierce battle on Chattanooga’s Missionary Ridge, charged up the ridge and planted the flag inside the Confederate fortifications. His actions inspired his regiment to take the ridge and drive the Confederate Army out of the crucial rail center. His son, Douglas MacArthur, would also receive a Medal of Honor in World War II, becoming the first father-son recipients.
It’s incredible Medal of Honor stories like Dr. Mary Walker, a civilian field surgeon who tended to wounded soldiers in Chattanooga, “to the detriment of her own health,” as her official Medal citation reads. Her bravery and strength of character, further tested by time spent as a prisoner of war, earned her the distinction of being the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
The critically acclaimed movie “Hacksaw Ridge” immortalized the incredible exploits of longtime Lookout Mountain resident Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Through his devotion to God and country, Doss became one of our nation’s greatest war heroes, saving the lives of 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa, though refusing to even touch a weapon.
Imagine Mitchell Stout as he picked up an enemy-thrown grenade and used his body to shield and protect his fellow soldiers at the expense of his own life. His unyielding courage to sacrifice his own life for that of his fellow soldier truly captures the essence of being a Medal of Honor recipient.
A Living Classroom
These are just a few of the nearly 3,500 amazing, inspiring and all-too-often heart-breaking stories of the Medal of Honor recipients that will come to life in the Heritage Center.
The Heritage Center strives to create lasting change in our youth through the Medal of Honor Character Development Program and Character Club initiatives. Through the real-life stories of Medal of Honor recipients, dedicated staff and volunteers with the Heritage Center will educate our youth and reinforce the six common character traits that embody the Medal of Honor and its recipients. In addition to dedicated classroom space within the Heritage Center, further outreach will be provided through its Character Club program and other educational resources in the community.
Honoring the Past, Changing the Future
“Our mission is to change the world,” stated the Heritage Center’s Executive Director Keith Hardison. “By sharing these stories of courage in a very real and relevant way, we hope to inspire future generations to summon that same courage and emulate those same character traits to make the world around us a better place for all.”
About the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center
Scheduled to open February 22, 2020, the Heritage Center will encompass a 19,000-square-foot facility in downtown Chattanooga, adjacentto the Tennessee Aquarium, and will feature life-sized exhibits and audio-visual presentations designed to create an emotional engagement and a profound, memorable experience for visitors.
For more information about the opening and exhibits at the Heritage Center, visit www.mohhc.org/events.