National Medal of Honor Museum poised to break ground late next year

An artist's rendering of the National Medal of Honor Museum.


By ABIGAIL DARLINGTON | The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. | Published: October 21, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (MCT) — When the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation signed a lease for waterfront property at Patriots Point about a year ago, the question on most minds was whether the nonprofit could raise $100 million to build the national museum.

Now, the foundation is well ahead of its goal to raise $5 million by the end of the year, according to Robert Wilburn, chief executive officer of the foundation, who believes the group is on track to break ground on the project as soon as next year.

"We're making some real progress, there's no doubt about that," he said.

The foundation announced Tuesday that they have selected two firms out of the 39 that applied to design the museum: Moshe Safdie, an international architect that has designed museums such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem; and Gallagher & Associates, whose portfolio includes the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La. and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

"Getting to the point where you're in a conceptual design phase is a very important milestone, and starting today the architectural design firms will be actually getting to work on what this museum will look like," Wilburn said. "We had to have the resources to make that commitment."

In the past year, the foundation has built relationships with powerful figures such as Ross Perot, George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger, among many others, according to board member Rudi Gresham, who was an advisor to the department of Veterans Affairs during the Bush administration.

Gresham added that he has also been in talks with celebrities such as Robert Duvall to help create a support base in Hollywood.

The board already has one celebrity member, Gary Sinise, who is best known for playing the role of Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump.

Big connections often translates to big donations for nonprofit groups, and that's certainly been the case for the foundation recently.

Last month, Perot hosted a benefit gala in Dallas to raise money for the museum, which Gresham said was "very successful."

"We had about 250 of the wealthier people in Dallas there, some of whom are Mr. Perot's personal friends," he said.

Several other galas are being planned in Charleston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, Greshman said.

The foundation has received about a thousand donations, Wilburn said, but he could not specify how much money has been raised so far — only that the foundation's finances are "where they were expected to be."

The South Carolina General Assembly appropriated a one-time-only grant of $1 million for the project in this year's budget.

Perot donated millions of dollars to the cause last month, Gresham said, but he could not give a specific amount.

Also, a multi-million dollar grant was pledged to the foundation this summer from a national organization that requested to remain anonymous. It's a matching gift, which means the foundation must raise a set amount of funds that will be doubled by the grantor.

The local Medal of Honor museum is currently onboard the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point. Although the new National Medal of Honor Museum will be built on state-owned land that the foundation has leased from Patriot Point for 99 years, the two museums are entirely separate entities.

Wilburn said the foundation board's over-arching goal is to build it as quickly as possible so that all the recipients, particularly those that served in World War II and the Korean War, will live to see the opening of the museum.

Of the nearly 3,500 veterans that have received the highest military honor since it was established in 1861, 78 recipients are still alive.

Gresham said that has been a main reason the foundation has been able to raise millions of dollars so quickly.

"Fundraising for a Medal of Honor museum is not difficult," he said, adding that the surviving Medal of Honor recipients are "warriors that shouldn't even be alive. They are extraordinary Americans. ... And most of these guys never get the chance to tell their stories. And that's what needs to be done."

Patrick Gallagher, the founder of Gallagher & Associates who was one of the architects hired to design the exhibits, said it's his job to focus on how to "connect visitors to those stories."

"The goal is to build an interpretive network to give a sense of who these individuals are and what they have done for the United States," he said. "Provide a lens into their lives, and hopefully people will reflect back on their own experiences, and feel changed emotionally."

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