Thirteen Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, including Chattanooga's Charles H. Coolidge, helped open the new Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center on Saturday morning at 2 West Aquarium Way.
Mr. Coolidge, who is approaching 99, made a surprise appearance and received a thunderous applause from the crowd of about 1,500.
Medal of Honor recipients included Bennie Adkins, Barney Barnum, Patrick Brady, Gary Beikrich, Kyle Carpenter, Sammy Davis, Charles Hagemeister, Joe Harm, Gary Littrel, James Livingston, Michael Thornton and Matt Williams.
In addition, other military veterans of distinction and rank on hand were 4-Star Generals Paul E. Funk II and Karl Horst.
Numerous local, state and national elected officials attended including Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
The order of ceremony included:
Procession of the Medal of Honor recipients and their families
Presentation of Colors by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ROTC Color Guard
National Anthem performed by Medal of Honor Recipient Jim McCloughan
Remarks by a number of dignitaries, Heritage Center Trustees and Medal of Honor recipients, including retired 3-Star General Charles H. Coolidge, Jr.
General Coolidge said, "My father knew the cost of war first-hand, and he knew the real heroes were the ones who didn’t come home. He’s lived his life giving tribute to those, and to honor those who paid the supreme sacrifice.
"His excitement about this center transcends the building itself. This center is the keeper and educator of their stories, of those who served and those who answered the call. Ordinary Americans who performed extraordinary acts. He is grateful that you have made it possible to remind or teach all Americans our values. Present and future generations will benefit from your paying forward."
Mayor Andy Berke said, "To be in the same room as so many recipients of the medal of honor, that is a truly special moment for everyone in this room. We are so very happy to have this opening today and it’s going to be a treasure for generations to come. And we thank the entire leadership that this is the home of the medal of honor society."
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said, "Hamilton County government did step up. Now, who is Hamilton County government? Hamilton County government is the taxpayers of this county, and I would think because of the financial commitment we have made for this particular project, I would say the taxpayers have told us that this is a great investment we’ve made to honor these people.
"I am so extremely impressed with the educational exhibits and the educational opportunities that this facility will offer to our young people. They’re actually going to see how history really did occur, and not how someone is telling them through rewriting history. But the opportunity to see how it really did occur.
"I say to all of the members of our armed forces and all of our Medal of Honor recipients, God bless every single one of you for what you’ve done for this country, and God bless the United States of America."
General Paul Funk said, "Just like everybody else up here, I got chills today and I really do appreciate this fantastic city and great state to take an opportunity to recognize these great warriors to my left. And more importantly, thank you for what you do every day to make us who currently serve in uniform feel appreciated for what it is we do.
"If we could reach back through time and interview each of them, I guarantee there would be one common theme. Their heroic acts were not borne not for themselves, but for those they loved and served with, side by side. Buddies, comrades, and brothers in arms. They would have fought for our way of life, and for the love of our great nation. The Medal of Honor recognizes the greatest of these heroes."
General Bill Raines said, "This is not a building or a monument, but a vision. We think it will be a way to honor the past in order to educate and inspire the future. We wanted to become the world’s largest and best classroom for character development ever. We wanted to inspire future generations to incorporate those character traits of sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, citizenship, courage, and commitment. WE believe these traits transcend the boundaries of race, gender, culture, religion, and politics. WE should all aspire to live our lives according to those qualities."
Medal of Honor recipient Chuck Hagemeister said, "I joined the society in 1968, and not long after, I got a letter from a guy named Coolidge who wanted to establish a Medal of Honor museum in Tennessee. And now I get to say that the heritage center will be opened today.
"We decided our legacy would be our character development program. That we were going to teach those values to as many people as we could. AS of last month, I think we’ve managed to train over 17,000 teachers in all but 12 states."
General B.B. Bell said, "It was right here on this ground, this is the place where the audacious raid on the deep south was launched. Where ultimately, President Lincoln knew for the Union to be saved, the South had to be cut off in Chattanooga.
"The Medal of Honor, and the men and one woman who have received it, tell the story of extraordinary valor in combat service to America. It is America’s heritage of freedom and liberty, and it’s a heritage that begins and now comes to life in Chattanooga, the birthplace of the Medal of Honor."
Governor Bill Lee said, "I frequently stand up and say that I’m honored to be somewhere. Today, that honor level was much higher. These are men who have been recognized not just for their service, but for their courage and valor in unusual circumstances. It was a very humbling experience.
"It’s an inspiration to be around men like that, who really do understand what it is to sacrifice so that we can live freely. We live in the greatest nation in the world, and it is because people have defended the rights and privileges and freedoms that we have, and that’s what we’re celebrating today."
The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center features·
19,000-square-foot facility with life-sized, dynamic displays designed to educate, engage and inspire visitors with the real-life stories of our nation’s top military heroes.
Exhibit gallery that will change 3-to-5 times a year
First exhibit, “Honoring the Sacrifice: Medals of Honor Through Time,” features the stories of Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War to Vietnam, along with their medals, related artifacts and images.
Classroom and community space for visiting schools and civic groups.
Character Education Program, based on the 6 character traits common to all Medal of Honor Recipients, for further outreach and impact in the community.
Saturday, February 22, 1 p.m. – Heritage Center opens for public tours
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Tickets are required for admission to tour the Heritage Center and may be purchased online at www.mohhc.org/tickets
Memberships to the Heritage Center are available and will give members priority seating at the grand ceremony event and certain rewards throughout the year.