The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga is celebrating the launch of its brand new podcast and anxiously anticipating a grand re-opening this weekend in observance of Memorial Day.
Director of Development Jules Parker gave a presentation to Rotarians about the Heritage Center during the weekly gathering of Rotary Club of Cleveland, which was held over Zoom.
Funded by $6 million raised by the Chattanooga community and beyond, the Medal of Honor Heritage Center recognizes and tells the story of medal recipients and the military conflicts in which they served.
Upon entering the museum, guests learn about the Medal of Honor’s beginnings in Chattanooga, where the first medals were awarded following famous Civil War battles in Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain.
A selection of stories of the 3,508 medal recipients are told throughout the museum, and each American conflict is presented under one of the six pillars of character that Medal of Honor recipients embody: patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice and commitment.
The museum celebrated its grand opening earlier this year in February, but its opening was cut short by COVID-19 and it had to close just three weeks later once Gov. Bill Lee issued his executive orders and declared a statewide emergency.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Center is reopening this weekend in observance of Memorial Day, though, and guests will be welcomed in groups of 10 and spaced 15 minutes apart to practice social distancing.
The museum is also celebrating the launch of its new podcast Wednesday. “Valorcast” shares the stories of medal recipients through interviews with the recipients themselves.
The first episode of the series features an interview with Sgt. Sammy Davis. Nicknamed “The Real Forrest Gump,” Davis earned the Medal of Honor in November 1967 in South Vietnam. A private first class, he noticed the presence of an estimated three companies of Viet Cong soldiers moving in from the south and west. In response, he manned a machine gun and began firing while his unit took cover and responded with artillery.
He was wounded in the process and, ignoring warnings to take cover, took control of the unit’s now burning howitzer and fired several shells himself. During the two-hour battle, he also managed to cross a river, although he couldn’t swim due to a back injury, and rescued three men. Afterward, he continued fighting until the battle was over.
He was presented with the Medal of Honor in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The footage from that ceremony was then used in the movie “Forrest Gump” in which actor Tom Hanks’ head was superimposed on Davis’ image for the movie.
Davis’ story and others can be found at the Heritage Center, which will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., staying open until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays, and open Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m.
Free masks will be available for guests upon entering the museum. Visit MOHHC.org for tickets and information.