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The Congressional Medal of Honor Museum is located in the hangar deck of the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Photo by Mic Smith
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Visitors enter the museum's main exhibit area through a tunnel depicting the sights and sounds of combat.
Photo by Mic Smith
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The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for military valor and is presented in three versions—Army, Navy and Air Force. Coast Guard and Marine Corps recipients are presented the Navy medal.
Photo by Mic Smith
The centerpiece of Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum is the USS Yorktown, a historic aircraft carrier dubbed “The Fighting Lady” during World War II. Visitors can tour much of the ship, long docked on the Charleston Harbor, to explore what life was like for her sailors. Yet the heart of Patriots Point is arguably the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum housed on board.
Located just inside the Yorktown’s main entrance, the museum honors the heroism and sacrifice of nearly 3,500 recipients of the nation’s highest award for military valor.
“None of these recipients planned on being heroes,” says programs coordinator Cindy Clark, who leads large tour groups at Patriots Point and has met several of the 77 living recipients of the medal. “They would tell you that ‘I was just doing my duty.’ ”
While it has been a part of Patriots Point for several decades, the Medal of Honor Museum reopened in 2007 after an extensive overhaul and expansion. Using interactive audiovisual technology, exhibits seek to honor all the medal’s recipients, while zeroing in on some of the most compelling stories.
Visitors enter the main exhibit space through a tunnel that envelops guests with gritty photographs and blasting sounds of bombs and gunfire. The sequence moves from Civil War battlefields to a World War II blitzkrieg to buzzing helicopters in Vietnam and is realistic enough that combat veterans sometimes bypass the tunnel and avoid its potential emotional triggers.
Individual displays in the heart of the museum profile the heroism of select Medal of Honor recipients, including the youngest, Willie Johnston. A drummer boy from Vermont, Johnston received the medal in 1863, at the age of 13, for refusing to abandon his drum during a disastrous retreat the previous summer in Virginia.
With the touch of a button, visitors can call up presentations on 18 more representative heroes, including the only woman to receive the medal, Dr. Mary E. Walker, who cared for sick and wounded Civil War soldiers, and Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson, a South Carolina native who threw himself on a grenade in Vietnam to protect two fellow Marines.
The museum includes a special display that shows the three most recent Medal of Honor recipients, as well as a remembrance board for those who have recently died. Visitors can use touchscreen stations to explore a recipient database by name, conflict, branch of service, birthplace or special milestones.
“They are all amazing in different ways,” Clark says of those who are honored here.
While it’s impossible to tell the complete stories of all 3,463 recipients, many yearn to do more. The Medal of Honor Museum Foundation recently launched an effort to raise $100 million to build a new, freestanding museum on seven acres of land leased from Patriots Point.
“We’re all working on this together to get this (new) Medal of Honor Museum built in five to seven years,” says Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette. “It’s such a great honor to have it here in South Carolina.”
The Congressional Medal of Honor Museum is located on board the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant.
HOURS: Open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily with limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Closed Christmas Day.
ADMISSION: Access to the Medal of Honor Museum is included with admission to Patriots Point. Tickets are $18 for adults; $15 for seniors (62 and older) and active-duty military with ID; $11 for children (ages 6–11). Admission is free for active-duty military in uniform and children under 6. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
DETAILS: Visit the museum's website or call (843) 884-2727.