The National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, which broke ground in March, has raised more than $185 million so far toward its goal of about $230 million to open in late 2024.
The latest donation, $1 million, was approved Tuesday by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court for construction costs.
The museum, near Arlington’s sports stadiums, will be the only national institution dedicated to telling the stories of America’s 3,551 recipients of the highest military decoration for valor in combat. It is expected to attract 650,000 to 800,000 visitors a year.
The initial round of fundraising will go toward building the museum, putting up the exhibits and starting the Medal of Honor Institute to provide experiential leadership programs modeled after the valor and values of medal recipients.
The organization wants to be largely self-sufficient after its first year so it can channel museum revenue and philanthropic gifts toward programming, said Cory Crowley, executive vice president of the museum foundation. Ticket prices haven’t been decided but may be in the $20 range.
Crowley said about 30 medals of honor have been acquired so far from all branches of service, including a few from people who walked into the foundation’s temporary offices in Choctaw Stadium to donate a family heirloom. A display of some of the artifacts are in the Choctaw offices.
Bell Textron has helped the museum in getting a Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter to help tell stories from the Vietnam era, Crowley said. It will be one of the largest artifacts on display.
But the organization doesn’t want to be a museum of only artifacts.
“We don’t want to be a war museum, and we don’t want to be a history museum,” Crowley said. “We want to be a biography museum. We want to tell the stories of perfectly normal Americans ... on a tough day, they made a decision that not everyone would make, and became great heroes in the process of doing it.”
Humanizing these war heroes is a way the museum can help visitors relate and be inspired to do great things in their own lives. The exhibits will tell the “origin stories” of these Americans who ended up doing extraordinary acts of bravery. As of this week, 64 of the nation’s 3,551 medal recipients since the Civil War are living.
The museum will also show what happened to the servicemen after the war — how those who survived went on to contribute in many ways to their communities.
“We want to tell their story not just at the moment of action, but where they came from,” Crowley said. “The same values that caused them to do what they did on the battlefield could be the same values in what you can do in your community or family or circle of friends, to make a difference.”
The museum is already taking shape on five acres just north of Choctaw Stadium. Most of the offices, classroom space and retail is underground. The foundations are poured for two buildings that jut out of the ground for a theater and a great hall, which will display temporary exhibits.
As of Tuesday, five massive columns are now erected at the center of the complex. They will hold the large medal-clad exhibit deck, where all the permanent galleries are housed.
Another component of the National Medal of Honor Museum will be a monument along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Congress authorized the monument last year. Crowley was in Washington on Tuesday for meetings about a short list of possible sites, which will need to go through 16 federal committees and back to Congress for final approval. The design process, which will be open to the public, will start after the site is chosen.
The museum’s mission was spotlighted Sunday during the Dallas Cowboys game, when 17 Medal of Honor recipients were featured. The Cowboys offensive line chose to support the museum for the NFL’s annual “My Cause My Cleats.” The linemen wore cleats representing the museum and surprised the medal recipients with customized Nike Air Force 1s to wear during the game.
About 40 of the top museum donors were also recognized, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has given $20 million. Judge Glen Whitley represented Tarrant County at the event and spoke Tuesday about how “it’s really humbling to be in their presence.”
The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation has given $1.5 million, and the city of Arlington provided the land for the museum. Crowley said the museum will also seek funding from the state of Texas and Congress.
At the groundbreaking in March, President George W. Bush spoke about presenting the Medal of Honor nine times during his terms, which he said was one of the greatest privileges that came with the job.
And Medal of Honor recipient Patrick H. Brady told commissioners Tuesday that honorees don’t think they did America a favor with their sacrifice, but that the country did them a favor by allowing them to be Americans.
Brady said honorees are obsessed with service.
“This museum will allow us to serve beyond our lives,” Brady said. “We will highlight recipients’ accomplishments as citizens, more important than what we did a soldiers.”