Less than a year after a nonprofit decided that Mount Pleasant wasn’t the best place for its Medal of Honor museum, a new nonprofit has emerged that intends to fulfill promises that some in the Lowcountry feel have been broken.
The National Medal of Honor Heritage Foundation, formed earlier this year, is soliciting donations from public, private and corporate donors to build a heritage center honoring Medal of Honor recipients by July 4, 2023.
“When you have a 10-year plan, it gets lost in the shuffle,” foundation Chairman Tommy McQueeney said. “You lose the enthusiasm. You really don’t reward your donors fast enough. There’s just too many sides to that that I think people are likely to say, ‘Well, let’s talk about that next year or next month.’ We don’t want to do that. We want to encourage a sense of urgency to build this museum to honor these heroes.”
McQueeney said the project is called a heritage center because in addition to a museum, it also could house meeting and event space, a chapel, a gift shop, and the offices for the Medal of Honor Society, which are currently aboard the USS Yorktown.
The plans are similar to those of the landside Medal of Honor Museum that had been planned in Mount Pleasant for years before the museum’s foundation decided in October to search for a new location. The foundation is now choosing between Denver and Arlington, Texas.
The heritage foundation doesn’t have a conceptual design yet — McQueeney said the nonprofit is looking at submissions — but the foundation is looking to raise between $45 million and $50 million, less than half what the previous Medal of Honor museum project was expected to cost.
The nonprofit also anticipates a $1 million operating budget in 2020, a $2 million budget in 2021 and $4 million in 2022. McQueeney said the heritage foundation guarantees it will build a museum or it will refund every donor.
McQueeney chaired a committee between 2003 and 2008 that raised $44.5 million to revitalize The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium.
The Medal of Honor Heritage Foundation also doesn’t have a site pinpointed, but McQueeney said he’s working with the Patriots Point Development Authority, of which McQueeney is a former member, to find a site.
Patriots Point spokesman Chris Hauff said that Patriots Point supports the heritage foundation but can’t agree to any specifics without the approval of the Patriots Point Development Authority board.
In addition to the executive board, the nonprofit also has a national advisory board chaired by Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient, and a “special forces team” chaired by Jimmy Bagwell. McQueeney said the national board will help the foundation access larger donors and the “special forces team” comprises experts in different fields, such as web design and construction, who can assist the nonprofit as it grows.
“This is a team effort, and everyone is going to have to pitch in,” Bagwell said.
McQueeney said all three groups are made up of local volunteers who are dedicated to making the project happen.
“These are people that want to see this happen and are not leaving,” he said.
McQueeney said that his foundation plans to reach out to the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, the original nonprofit planning the landside Medal of Honor museum, to ask them to stop using the word “national” in its name. He and Livingston said they have no problem with multiple Medal of Honor museums, so long as it’s recognized that only one nationally designated museum exists.
A law passed by Congress in 1999 recognizes three sites as National Medal of Honor sites: the Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif.; the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial at White River State Park in Indianapolis; and the Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point.
“If you look at the number of people who visit Charleston and you look at the number of young people, we will only touch a small part of that,” Livingston said. “So anything we can do to introduce Americans — if it’s in Denver, if it’s in San Diego, if it’s in New York — anything we can do to introduce the concept of freedom, and the service and sacrifice of these people, I’m all for it.”
Livingston said the previous museum design, which was created by architect Moshe Safdie, didn’t represent “the values of the Lowcountry.”
“They wanted it their way or the highway, and I’m glad they took the highway,” he said.
Charleston County has pledged $5 million to the new effort, and Mount Pleasant Town Council voted unanimously last week to provide $3 million over the next three years.
The town will provide $1.2 million immediately, some of which is coming from money that Mount Pleasant allocated for road work associated with the previous museum project.
Approximately $500,000 of Mount Pleasant’s allocation will go toward operating costs for the foundation, which means it would not be returned if the heritage center does not get built.
Councilwoman Kathy Landing said she heard from constituents for months that they were disappointed that the previous Medal of Honor museum project left town.
“It was divisive, it was negative, it was disappointing,” Landing said. “We all wanted it to be here.”
South Carolina also has $5 million it gave to the former Medal of Honor museum project that was returned when the project left the state. McQueeney said he intends to talk to legislators about allocating that money to the heritage center.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie pointed out that the museum already exists in town, aboard the Yorktown.
“Folks, we already have the Medal of Honor Museum. It’s already here,” he said. “We’re just going to move it ashore and make it bigger and make it better.”
McQueeney said he realizes that the previous museum efforts left a sour taste in some people’s mouths, and he intends to remedy that. One idea is to recognize all of the donors to the previous project within the heritage center, even if they don’t donate to the new project.
“My sense is there are people that are not made whole because they made a $50,000 or $100,000 donation,” McQueeney said. “There are several that were much larger.”
McQueeney said he wants to assure the Lowcountry that no matter what happened in the past, the heritage foundation is dedicated to building in Mount Pleasant.
“We are just hellbent on getting this done,” he said. “And as Gen. Livingston so aptly says, failure is not an option.”
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 19, 2019, print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.