Area veterans and their supporters gave more than $600,000 over the past six months to bring the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center a little closer to reality.
Their donations, it was announced Friday, helped the campaign raise $1.25 million of the $6 million its leaders are seeking to house the center in the former Chattanooga Visitors Center building on Aquarium Plaza in the heart of the downtown tourist district.
Building owner River City Co. had prudently insisted the Heritage Center campaign raise $1 million before the end of 2017 and a cumulative $3 million by the end of 2018.
(The same valued site previously was going to be the home of the Chattanooga History Center, which raised millions of dollars in support but never opened. The Medal of Honor Heritage Center is not related to the former history center.)
Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Raines, chairman of the Heritage Center, said in August the campaign hoped to raise $500,000 of the 2017 goal from local veterans. But he said in a news release yesterday the goal had been met and exceeded.
"I am proud to say our veterans and their families never hesitated to 'answer the call' of this challenge," he said. "In fact, the veteran community has contributed more than $600,000 so far, with hopes of surpassing the $1 million threshold by the end of 2018."
Such a worthy endeavor, which will honor the 32 Medal of Honor recipients with ties to Tennessee (like center namesake Charles Coolidge, Desmond Doss, Alvin York, Whitwell's Ray Duke, Cleveland's Paul Huff, Mary Walker, the only female recipient, and the Andrews Raiders), deserves support not only from veterans but from an entire community that reveres its veterans and is appreciative of the freedoms they have defended so courageously.
One member of the community, Greg Vital, chief executive officer of Morning Pointe Senior Living and Independent Healthcare Properties, showed that type of support during the initial phase of the campaign, donating $250,000 in agreeing to match the gift of the campaign's first lead donor and to encourage others to back the project.
If the cumulative $3 million goal is met by the end of this year, Heritage Center officials say they can begin construction on their 19,000-square-foot space in early 2019 and complete work by early 2020.
The finished space is expected to offer state-of-the-art exhibits that immerse the visitor into sights and sounds of the narrative of each recipient and incorporate the character traits of citizenship, commitment, courage, integrity, patriotism and sacrifice that each recipient shares in order to influence others to reach those ideals.
It's been a whirlwind but successful start for the project but one that holds the promise of being an inspirational part of all that Chattanooga has to offer.