Charles Coolidge, Oldest Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 99

Charles Coolidge, Oldest Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 99

2021-04-08 03:42:45

When Charles Coolidge was rising up outdoors Chattanooga, his grammar college class acquired a go to from Sgt. Alvin York, the Tennessean famed for World Warfare I exploits that introduced him the Medal of Honor.

Within the aftermath of World Warfare II, it was Sergeant Coolidge making the rounds of his dwelling state, telling of one other harrowing firefight in France, this one bringing him the nation’s highest ornament for valor in his personal proper.

Celebrated in Chattanooga with a park and a freeway and on the Charles H. Coolidge Nationwide Medal of Honor Heritage Middle, Mr. Coolidge died there on Tuesday. He was 99 and the oldest dwelling recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor.

The heritage heart introduced his dying.

Mr. Coolidge’s dying leaves Hershel W. Williams, 97, because the oldest surviving recipient of the medal. Mr. Williams acquired it for his exploits combating with the Marines on Iwo Jima in World Warfare II.

“We each have been blessed by God with a protracted, lengthy life,” Mr. Williams, who had final been in contact with Mr. Coolidge about 5 years in the past, stated in a cellphone interview on Wednesday.

Within the final week of October 1944, Sergeant Coolidge and a few 30 outnumbered troopers in his rifle and machine-gun part confronted annihilation by German troops with tanks throughout a serious battle within the Vosges Mountains of japanese France, close to the German border.

Sergeant Coolidge had fought with the thirty sixth Infantry Division in Italy earlier than it moved into France, and a lot of the troops below his command within the fall of 1944 have been replacements for many who had been killed or wounded within the division’s lengthy slog. That they had little if any fight expertise.

His unit was however ordered to carry off the German forces threatening to assault the fitting flank of the division’s Third Battalion, 141st Infantry, which was massing with two different battalions outdoors the tiny city of Belmont-sur-Buttant.

By way of the primary day of his unit’s confrontation with the Germans and over the subsequent three days, Sergeant Coolidge’s males fought for management of what was often called Hill 623 within the face of repeated makes an attempt by the Germans to overrun them. All of the whereas, Sergeant Coolidge sought to calm them and direct their fireplace.

At one level, two German tanks got here inside 25 yards of him. A tank commander shouted, “in excellent English, ‘Do you guys wanna quit?’” Mr. Coolidge recalled in a 2014 interview with the College of Tennessee’s College of Journalism and Digital Media. His reply: “I’m sorry, Mac, you’ve gotta come and get me.”

After that, he stated, the Germans “fired 5 instances at me.”

“When a shot went a method, I went the opposite manner,” he added, recalling how he had dodged the hearth by transferring from tree trunk to tree trunk.

“Then I discovered a bazooka,” he went on. “However it didn’t work. Somebody had taken the batteries out. You employ what you do have. I began lobbing grenades.”

On the fifth day of the standoff, Sergeant Coolidge orchestrated an orderly retreat, enabling his males to rejoin the Third Battalion a number of hundred yards away.

However the First Battalion, surrounded by Germans for per week, appeared on the verge of being worn out.

Then got here a long-remembered feat. The Japanese-American troopers of the 442nd Regimental Fight Group, having already incurred heavy casualties in Italy and France, broke the siege of what grew to become often called the Misplaced Battalion, rescuing greater than 200 males.

(The unique Misplaced Battalion, doughboys from the 77th Infantry Division, held off Germans who had trapped them within the Meuse-Argonne marketing campaign of World Warfare I.)

Sergeant Coolidge acquired the Medal of Honor on June 18, 1945, in a ceremony close to Dornstadt, Germany.

“On account of Technical Sergeant Coolidge’s heroic and superior management,” the quotation learn, “the mission of his fight group was completed all through 4 days of steady combating in opposition to numerically superior enemy troops in rain and chilly and amid dense woods.”

Charles Henry Coolidge was born on Aug. 4, 1921, in Sign Mountain, Tenn., outdoors Chattanooga, to Walter and Frances Coolidge. He had a sister, Mary. After graduating from highschool in 1939, he labored as a bookbinder with Chattanooga Printing & Engraving, an organization his father had based

He entered the Military in June 1942 and went to North Africa with the thirty sixth Division in April 1943. He was awarded a Silver Star for main his machine-gun part in a firefight in Italy in Could 1944.

For all his fight time, he was by no means wounded. After his discharge on the struggle’s finish, he returned to his household printing agency.

In 2013, the Postal Service honored Mr. Coolidge and 11 different Medal of Honor recipients by displaying their images on the quilt sheet of packets of 20 “World Warfare II Medal of Honor Endlessly” stamps. (Mr. Coolidge was proven on the higher left). The stamps themselves carried reproductions of the Military or Navy variations of the medal.

“I take it as a praise to everyone who served in World Warfare II,” he stated.

The Nationwide Medal of Honor Heritage Middle, which opened in February 2020, focuses on the historical past of the Medal of Honor, whose first recipient, Personal Jacob Parrott, earned it for his half within the Nice Locomotive Chase, an 1862 raid by the Union Military that concluded outdoors Chattanooga.

Credit score…Mark Gilliland/Related Press

Mr. Coolidge is survived by three sons, John, William and Charles, a retired lieutenant normal; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. His spouse, Frances (Seepe) Coolidge, whom he married in 1945, died in 2009.

When he got here dwelling from fight, Mr. Coolidge sought to emulate Sergeant York’s post-World Warfare I talking marketing campaign. “I spoke for a yr,” he stated, “a couple of times a day, to Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions golf equipment,” telling tales of life on the entrance.

“You see your buddy get killed,” and sleep alongside the bottom “each evening in each form of climate,” he stated within the 2014 interview. “There are lots of people scared to dying, particularly should you’re a substitute, by no means been in fight.”

As he put it, for all of the adulation he acquired, “there’s no glory within the infantry.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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