Standing on the hangar deck of the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown, officials with the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum announced plans Wednesday for a $100 million Medal of Honor Museum honoring the recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor.
The museum on high ground on Charleston Harbor would replace a smaller one aboard the carrier and make Patriots Point a national destination, said Ray Chandler, the chairman of the Patriots Point Development Authority.
The authority has signed a letter of understanding with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society to build a museum “honoring the highest heroes of this country,” he said.
No money from Patriots Point will be used. Instead, a national foundation will be created to lease the property, raise funds and build the museum. There’s no specific timetable for completion, said Patriots Point spokeswoman Ashley Smith.
But retired Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a South Carolina recipient of the medal, wants to move quickly.
“This is the final opportunity to establish a lasting legacy for the Medal of Honor while we still have recipients alive from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the War on Terror,” he said.
Livingston, who is on the organizing committee for the foundation, said of the 3,456 recipients of the honor, only 81 are still living. Their average age is 73.
He said it is fitting for Charleston to be the location for the new museum. The Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War, which began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on Charleston Harbor.
A master plan for the museum released Wednesday envisions, among other attractions, a uniform collection, a large format theater with multiple video screens where visitors can learn about sacrifices for freedom, a Great Hall honoring the medal recipients and an interactive media gallery where visitors can hear each recipient’s story.
Eventually, a hotel with a conference center is planned for the site.
Five years ago, a smaller $1.5 million Medal of Honor Museum was opened aboard the Yorktown.
In it, visitors can see a multimedia exhibit on the meaning of freedom, see the medal itself and then enter the so-called Tunnel of Combat. As visitors pass, they trip sensors that trigger sounds on screens on either side, providing a sense of the chaos of battle.
Chandler also said Patriots Point is now prepared to return to South Carolina lawmakers with a plan for repaying $9 million it borrowed earlier for repairs to the World War II destroyer Laffey, which was returned to its berth at the museum earlier this year.
Chandler said two major studies will be completed next year outlining the long-term restoration and maintenance needs for the Yorktown. In the meantime, he said, Patriots Point has committed $2 million over the next five years to upgrade the museum displays on the carrier.