Our permanent exhibits take our visitors from the actions that prompted the First Medals during the Civil War to the War on Terror conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Heritage Center offers an immersive experience that puts our visitors in the boots of Medal of Honor recipients and brings their heroic stories to life. Imagine yourself in the church where Dr. Mary Walker treated wounded soldiers, or inside a trench manning a machine gun during WWI or fighting in the forest with Charles Coolidge as he single-handedly took on a German Pazer tank.
Your experience begins in our orientation theater, where you will see a short introductory video exploring the history of the Medal of Honor. The first Medals of Honor were awarded for valor during the Civil War. When the doors to the theater open, you will be transported to the Civil War era and learn about the Andrew’s Raiders and the Great Locomotive Chase.
You then walk through the infamous Ringgold Tunnel and see into the Second Presbyterian Church where Dr. Mary Walker, the only female Medal of Honor recipient, treated wounded soldiers.
During your journey you will pass through character kiosks that explore common traits that all Medal of Honor recipients exhibit, including patriotism, courage, sacrifice, citizenship, integrity, and commitment. These contemplative areas encourage us to think about how such traits can help us in our own lives, whether our challenges are on the battlefield, in the boardroom or on the playground. These areas in the Heritage Center are where our Medals of Honor are proudly displayed.
The exhibit pathway then takes you through the Indian Wars and wars in the pacific. Medal recipients featured include George Jordan, who was a former slave from Williamson County, Tennessee. Jordan was a Buffalo Soldier who received his Medal of Honor for actions on two different occasions. Jordan and the men under his command successfully repelled a much larger group of attackers, thus saving the town of Carrizo Canyon, NM. On a separate occasion, his detachment of 19 men repelled more than 100 combatants.
Our WWI section features a trench and no man’s land, where you will be able to aim a German machine gun and get a glimpse of what trench life was like during that great conflict. The WWII section features a parachuting Paul Huff, the first paratrooper Medal of Honor recipient and Desmond Doss’s Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who did not shoot a firearm, is famous for rescuing seventy-five men, lowering them one-by-one down the jagged cliffs of Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Japan. You will see a re-creation of these cliffs and be able to tie Doss’s famous butterfly knot by which he saved each man.
You will walk in Charles Coolidge’s shoes as you trace his WWII journey. He hiked over 1500 miles from Africa to Europe as he fought for our freedom. In the Coolidge Theater you will be able to take a stand with Charles Coolidge as the action that earned him the Medal of Honor breaks out around you in the forests of France and you watch Coolidge dodge tank fire. Interviews with Charles Coolidge will bring the story to life, and you will see actual objects that belonged to Charles Coolidge and Desmond Doss.
The Korean and Vietnam War exhibits demonstrate how armed conflicts were increasingly brought into American homes via televised footage. You will be able to sit in a 1960s-era living room as you watch coverage of the Vietnam War and other special videos. On the other side of the living room wall is reality: a Vietnam bunker where you will feel the prop wash from a Huey Helicopter as it undertakes a critical mission.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan feature our most recent Medal of Honor heroes. Next to the main exhibit gallery is the Hall of Valor, a hallway that features the images and citations of all 32 Medal of Honor recipients from Tennessee. At the end of the permanent exhibit, you will visit the gallery that houses our rotating exhibits that change throughout the year. These displays will bring the sacrifices and journeys of our Medal of Honor recipients into a broader historical and cultural context through the years.
At the center of the Heritage Center is a statue of Arthur MacArthur, a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and father of WWII’s Douglas MacArthur. We are calling his statue the “Heart of Valor,” and it is a focal point where you can contemplate the passion of our heroes and how the character traits of patriotism, sacrifice, courage, citizenship, integrity, and commitment can impact our own lives.
With awe, with remembrance – with respect for the past and hope for the future – it is our hope that every visitor to our Center leaves with a renewed sense of our heritage and a fresh commitment to the values common to our American experience.