Church bells will ring 13 times Thursday in the hometowns of 13 service members who received the Medal of Honor for actions during the D-Day invasion, a moving tribute that masks an unfortunate dispute on where and when to memorialize all those who have earned the nation's highest award for valor.
The bells event, which will take place at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings in Normandy, is sponsored by the non-profit National Medal of Honor Museum (NMOH).
The museum is still searching for a site following a bitter falling out with the Charleston, South Carolina, community.
According to Joe Daniels, CEO and president of NMOH, "We designed a building that was too tall" for the planned location. But he said the dispute arose before he came to NMOH in April 2018. Daniels is also the former CEO and president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan.
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In an interview last Saturday, Daniels said he is pressing ahead with finding another location for the museum in a major market city and expects to make an announcement this fall.
There is now a separate effort underway in Charleston to build a Medal of Honor museum, unconnected to Daniels' group.
The dispute left some of the 70 living recipients of the Medal of Honor divided on the debate, but Daniels said he bears no ill will over the issue.
"I'm not saying my organization wasn't responsible" for the rejection by Charleston and the nearby Mount Pleasant community, he said.
To regain momentum, Daniels said he is now focused on D-Day ceremonies Thursday and the bell ringing to honor the 13 Medal of Honor recipients for their actions in the landings and the push inland in the days afterward.
- Carlton W. Barrett at First United Methodist Church in Fulton, New York
- John Edward Butts at Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina, New York
- Charles N. DeGlopper at Trinity Church in Grand Island, New York
- Robert G. Cole at Trinity Baptist Church at Fort Sam Houston, Texas
- John D. Kelly at First Presbyterian Church in Venango Township, Pennsylvania
- Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. at Clifton Forge Presbyterian Church in Low Moor, Virginia
- Carlos C. Ogden at Presbyterian Church in Borton, Illinois
- John J. Pinder Jr. at Paris Presbyterian Church in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania
- Theodore Roosevelt at North Shore Community Church in Oyster Bay, New York
- Walter D. Ehlers at C.L. Hover Opera House in Junction City, Kansas
- Joe Gandara at St. Monica Catholic Community Church in Santa Monica, California
- Frank D. Peregory at St. Stephen's Church in Esmont, Virginia
- Arthur F. Defranzos at Cliftondale Congregational Church in Saugus, Massachusetts
Daniels said the event will help bring "awareness on the 75th anniversary of D-Day to these guys who stormed the beaches" and refocus attention on the national museum project.
"It's kind of crazy that we don't have a National Medal of Honor Museum. We're going to get it done," he said, adding that the experience in Charleston convinced him to rechannel the effort to a major city to attract more visitors.
"We have this national cause. We should build in a city that gives us a chance to impact as much of the country as possible," Daniels said.
"As great as Charleston is," it was not the right fit for a national attraction, he said.
Daniels said that New York City, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Diego had been under consideration, but New York and San Diego have already been ruled out.
"If we have a chance to build in a major city that's going to have people from across the county in the millions [as visitors], we owe it to the medal and the recipients to swing for the fences," he said.
The plan to have the museum in the Charleston area began going downhill before Daniels became CEO when several board members quit in 2017 over the costs and design of the project, including retired Marine Maj. Gen. Jim Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in the 1968 battle of Dai Do in Vietnam's Quang Tri province.
"It's crazy for us to think that we could build a museum down there without his support," Daniels said of Livingston, a resident of the Charleston area.
Livingston is now backing a local group looking to build a Medal of Honor museum in Mount Pleasant on the Charleston peninsula, where the World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier Yorktown is docked at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society also maintains a small museum on the history of the medal aboard the Yorktown.
Livingston told Military.com on Wednesday that the group he's backing has secured a pledge of $5 million from the county to go forward with a plan for a smaller museum than the national group had proposed. "We're excited about resurrecting this thing," he said.
Livingston said he personally didn't have a problem with the national group's proposal, but "people here were just not happy" with it.
"It was against what the community was looking for," he said. "It didn't fit in with the architecture of Charleston, South Carolina," and the surrounding low country.
Daniels stressed that he has no quarrel with Livingston or the effort to have a museum in the Charleston area separate from the national project.
He said he could envision a hub-and-spoke arrangement in which a national museum would be the centerpiece for regional tributes to those who earned the Medal of Honor. "I certainly don't think it sets up conflicts" with the Charleston project, he said.
Daniels also said there are no lingering conflicts with Livingston. "I respect the heck out of him. He was the very first person I called" when taking over as CEO, he said.
-- Richard Sisk served with then-captain and company commander Jim Livingston in 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines, in 1967-68. He can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.