Chattanooga is indelibly connected to the nation’s highest medal, the Congressional Medal of Honor, according to Jim Wade, executive director of the National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History, who was the guest speaker for the February meeting of the Walden Community Guild. The museum is located on Highway 153 inside Northgate Mall. Chattanooga is the appropriate site for the museum, he said, because of its connection to the Medal.
It happened during the Civil War when the Andrews Raiders seized the railroad engine, The General, in Marietta, Ga., and traveled back toward Chattanooga, trying to burn bridges and thwart the Southern cause. When they ran out of fuel and had to abandon the engine above Ringgold, they were captured and imprisoned in Chattanooga. Several were executed, later buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery, and others in the group were imprisoned and later awarded the first Medal of Honor.
Three men from the Chattanooga area received the medal during World War II, including Charles Coolidge of Signal Mountain, for whom Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park is named. In addition, Desmond Doss was the only conscientious objector in WWII to receive the award and the most unusual recipient, who was connected to Chattanooga, was Mary Walker, She was not only the only woman to receive the Medal but also the only woman to be a Union surgeon during the Civil War, serving in Chattanooga.
The first American medal, the Medal of Valor, was given by George Washington to three men in 1782. There were no other medals until the Civil War when the Navy and Army each issue their own versions and many years later the Air Force. The Medal of Valor in 1932 became the Purple Heart, awarded for the combat wounded. Among other well-known recipients of the Medal of Honor were Arthur McArthur, a young soldier during the battle for Chattanooga, and his son, Douglas McArthur in WWII, and Tennessee’s Alvin York, also in WWII. Over 63 percent of Medals were awarded posthumously.
The mission of the museum, Mr. Wade said, is not only to record the history of the award and the people who received it, but also to educate future generations about these men of valor. Many people, especially younger people, are not aware of the medals, he said, so the mission of the museum is of extreme importance.
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is staffed by volunteers, who are always welcomed, and is funded through volunteer contributions. The museum is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
A book is now available, "Paths of Valor," which provides information and photographs about the Medal of Honor and its recipients. The cost of $30 (plus $5 if mailed) all goes to the museum.
For more information, to contribute or to volunteer, the National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History address is P.O. Box 11467, Chattanooga 37401, phone 423-877=2525 or www.mohm.org.