Organizers of the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center will unveil the museum's new design Thursday next door to the Tennessee Aquarium, a much-anticipated event years in the making. But one of the most significant artifacts in its possession will not be unveiled quite yet.
The center is named for Charles H. Coolidge, a Signal Mountain resident who is the second oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, for his heroism in World War II. On Tuesday, museum organizers said they received original footage in December of Coolidge receiving his Medal of Honor on a bombed-out airfield near Dornstadt, Germany, on June 18, 1945, just months after the end of World War II in Europe. Coolidge was awarded the nation's highest military honor for his valor in battle on Oct. 24-27, 1944, east of Belmont sur Buttant, France.
The footage shows Coolidge being given the medal by Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip before receiving a full regimental salute complete with a marching band.
"This is a monumental find for the museum," said Keith Hardison, the new executive director of the center. "And visitors being able to see Coolidge having the medal placed around his neck is a perfect example of how we want to immerse people in the Medal of Honor experience."
Organizers said Coolidge's son, Charles, was given the footage and that they are now documenting its history before releasing it publicly. The footage was shared Tuesday with the Times Free Press.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Center will publicly unveil its new name, interior design and celebrate the beginning of construction at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the museum site in the Aquarium Plaza. The public is invited to the opening ceremony, and it will remain open until 2 p.m. for community visitation.
Residents will be able see enlargements of the designs of the 14 permanent exhibits. Multiple video screens will run a three-minute video that takes visitors from the front door through the 19,000-square-foot museum as it will be on opening day in February 2020.
"We've traveled a long road to get here," said Maj. Gen. Bill Raines, chairman of the center.
The center honors the 3,522 recipients of the nation's highest award for individual valor in the military with a specific interest in the 32 Medals of Honor attributed to Tennesseans. The first medals were awarded for acts of valor leading up and during the Civil War's Chattanooga Campaign in 1863-1864.
The museum will feature exhibits from seven American conflicts from the Civil War through the War on Terror. Interspersed between galleries will be "character kiosks" where the attributes of patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice and commitment will be demonstrated through the lives of the Medal of Honor recipients.
At the center of the museum floor plan will be the Heart of Valor exhibit, which will feature Medal of Honor recipient Arthur MacArthur Jr., who received his Medal of Honor in Chattanooga during the Civil Way and best represents the six character traits that embody the Medal of Honor, organizers say.
The project architect is Pat Neuhoff of Taylor Neuhoff Architects in Chattanooga, the design firm is Encore Interpretive Design of Nashville and the exhibits will be built by Method-1 of Birmingham. Rear Admiral Noah Long, U.S. Navy (Retired), will oversee the design and construction process.
Museum officials raised $4.3 million in 18 months required by the River City Company to secure a long-term lease on the museum site. That followed a controversy in 2016 over the initial plan to place the museum in Coolidge Park, the city park originally dedicated to Coolidge and all area veterans in 1945. The modern version of the park opened in 1999.
Contact Davis Lundy at email@example.com.