Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are asking Americans for support to build a national museum to recognize Medal of Honor recipients.
The three former US leaders are featured in a new public service announcement calling on others to “join the mission” to build a national museum in Arlington, Texas, and national monument in Washington, DC, to honor recipients of the highest military award.
“We salute these extraordinary Americans. We will never forget their sacrifices. We will always be inspired by their heroism,” Clinton says in the minute-long PSA video.
Obama adds: “Let’s all come together to build a museum in their honor.”
The three former commanders in chief have honorary positions on the board of directors for the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, which was started to design, fund and maintain the museum.
In a statement, Bush said, “America owes a debt we can never fully repay to Medal of Honor recipients. Each answered a noble call and demonstrated tremendous personal courage, love of country, and devotion to duty. It’s our responsibility to honor these patriots and their families. Providing a home for their stories to be kept and shared with future generations is one way we can express our gratitude.”
The PSA first aired during the NFL’s Sunday game between the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, close to the proposed site for the museum in Texas.
It’s been difficult to determine how much has been raised by the PSA since its debut, but the presidential message has drawn attention to the museum and monument, Christopher Cassidy, the foundation’s president and CEO, told CNN.
“It really helps our efforts in terms of the message that it sends about unity, and that’s what our project is about. We’re on a mission to inspire America by highlighting something that’s universally supported. The Medal of Honor – the values of courage, sacrifice, patriotism, that’s something that represents our nation,” Cassidy said. “And I think having all three of those former presidents record that message sends that message very clearly.”
A museum designed to remember, unite and inspire
The National Medal of Honor Museum’s stated mission is “to commemorate the stories of our Medal of Honor recipients, unite Americans around what it means to be patriotic, and inspire us to find the hero within ourselves.”
“Our goal is to have museum visitors leave the experience thinking, ‘Wow, they did incredible things, but perhaps so can I in my life. It won’t necessarily be on the battlefield, but maybe I can find that same courage in other aspects of life,’” Cassidy said.
The museum will house galleries highlighting the stories of Americans awarded the Medal of Honor, visiting exhibits, an education center, a leadership institute and a theater for events.
The foundation plans to break ground on the museum early next year and hopes to have the museum completed and open to the public in 2024.
Cassidy said the foundation is under some “urgency” to get the museum completed by then so that the 66 living Medal of Honor recipients can tour the museum in their lifetime.
More than 3,500 Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor since it was established in 1861.
Right now, the museum has a location, an architect and design, majority of the funds, and historical artifacts, including medals themselves, donated by the families of Medal of Honor recipients.
The foundation still needs to secure subcontractors, raise the last bit of funds, and get final approval from the city of Arlington to start digging.
The museum’s unique design from architect Rafael Viñoly features a massive slab of steel engineered to appear as though it is floating in midair.
The five columns holding up the steel slab symbolize the five branches of the military, with the newest sixth military branch, the US Space Force, represented by an oculus at the center of the steel slab.
Steel made Viñoly think of the “extraordinary acts of valor that distinguish the Medal of Honor recipients, as though an individual was miraculously lifting a heavy burden in support of their brothers and sisters in arms, and really to protect our whole collective,” he explained in a video.
Cassidy told CNN that they have also been impacted by the global supply chain crisis, which has escalated the prices for the materials to build the museum.
Originally imagined in South Carolina, the museum location was moved to Texas in 2019 following a nationwide search for a new site.
Its central location in the country, close proximity to a major airport and the opportunity to build in Arlington’s entertainment district that’s home to the Cowboys and Texas Rangers all made the city an appealing site for the museum.
The foundation also recently changed leadership. Cassidy, a retired US Navy SEAL and NASA chief astronaut, was tapped in August to lead the foundation, taking over for Joe Daniels, the former head of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
The foundation’s board of directors boasts five Medal of Honor recipients – Army Major Gen. Patrick Brady, retired Navy SEAL Britt Slabinski, Army SSG David Bellavia, retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, Army LTC William Swenson.
Its advisory board includes former defense secretaries and other military leaders, former government employees, and journalists. Documentarian Ken Burns is also a history adviser to the museum.
Monument in DC
While the museum has been its priority, the foundation is also pushing for a national Medal of Honor monument to be approved and built in Washington, DC.
Such a process is its own challenge as DC is federal land, which requires Congress’ approval to add to the National Mall, and many monuments have been proposed over the years without coming to fruition.
But a monument for Medal of Honor recipients is different, according to Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas, whose bill that would authorize the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation to build a “commemorative work” in DC passed unanimously in late July.
“I don’t why anyone would not be for this. I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t want to honor veterans and service members that have passed, some that were (killed in action), that went above and beyond the call of duty,” he told CNN.
Veasey’s bill is now with the Senate, where he believes it will pass and be signed by President Joe Biden by the end of the year.
“I’m hope that we’re able to get the monument up and going as soon as possible. With Congress obviously things can take time. But we got our part done in the House. I do believe it will pass very soon in the Senate, and that we will have a monument in DC,” Veasey told CNN.
Three possible sites have already been identified as possible locations for the monument – all right near the Lincoln Memorial, according to Cassidy.
If the legislation passes, the foundation can pick a site and begin the process of selecting a design.