Roy Exum: Ordinary To Extraordinary

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - by Roy Exum

A handsome black guy, from the looks of it still in high school, appeared in a video during the A Celebration of Valor luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center Tuesday afternoon and described a Medal of Honor winner. Easily over 500 were there, including our famed Charles Coolidge, and all heard this young achiever say, “A Medal recipient is an ordinary person who performs in an extraordinary way.”

Who among us does not pray every child in the Hamilton County school system will grow up like they were awarded the Medal of Honor “in an extraordinary way.” Another person in the video, an actual Medal of Honor recipient, was shown talking to other high school students and said, “Each of us did step out of our comfort zone … but not until you step out of your comfort zone will your life become significant.”

Are you still laughing about a Medal of Honors Center to honor Mr.

Coolidge, now 96, and the others who earned the nation’s highest honor as they protected “my men?” Do you think it is a tribute to warfare, to men who killed other men who were very intent on killing our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters? If so, you miss this dream entirely.

“We believe we can teach young and old, not just in this area but from across the country the six key principles the Medal of Honor reflects in each recipient,” said retired General Bill Raines, a driving force in an effort to raise $1 million in seed money before year’s end. “Those six are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship. If we do not help teach our young these traits, who will?”

Chattanooga is roundly considered the birthplace of the Medal of Honor. Created in 1862, the first medals were presented to members of Andrew’s Raiders, a daring group of Union volunteers who “stole the General,” a Confederate locomotive. The incident, dubbed “The Great Locomotive Chase,” was led by civilian spy James Andrews, who ironically did not quality because he was a civilian.

Later an Army panel would concur that Andrews was eligible and some medal recipients who were killed or hanged are interred at the National Cemetery. The lone female winner, Mary Edwards Walker, was a surgeon who saved lives at Chickamauga and in Chattanooga during the Civil War. It is known she operated in the Crutchfield House hotel when it was used as a hospital in the days after Chickamauga.

For the record, 3,499 have been awarded the Medal of Honor and 30 are from Tennessee, the most notable being Mr. Coolidge and pacifist Desmond Doss, whose heroics were featured earlier this year in Mel Gibson’s acclaimed movie, “Heartbreak Ridge.” Of those who have earned the Medal, only 72 are still alive and the Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center will honor all of those who have received the honor. “We must never forget their stories and their history,” said Raines. “We must use their examples to teach.”

Coolidge’s son, Charles Jr., a retired Air Force Lt. General, told a wonderful story on his father. “We planned to tour the former battlefields where he fought in Europe with mother and my wife. But when the Russians abruptly pulled out of a meeting in Geneva that I was attending, the State Department issued a warning for all Americans then in Europe,” he told the delighted crowd.

“I called Dad to tell him the news and – in typical Coolidge -- the medal recipient replied somewhat stoically, 'Well, we shouldn’t have much of a problem getting hotel reservations.' ”

Retired Col. Jimmy Blackmon, a noted author who wrote the book, “Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes with the 101st Airborne Division,” was the ideal speaker for quite a good reason – of 17 medal recipients since 9/11 Blackmon commanded five of them in Afghanistan. The Raymond James Company made sure everyone in attendance received a copy of the award-winning book.

The popular Raines has been instrumental in championing the center and his core committee, along with the Advisory Committee led by heralded warrior, General B.B. Bell, hopes to reach the $1 million within a few months. If Tuesday’s gathering was any indicator, he should begin to receive generous donations immediately.

Becky Cope English is the Campaign Chair and those wishing to be part of those who will build the center can go online for more information (info@mohm.org) and mail checks to The Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center, Post Office Box 11467, Chattanooga TN 37401 (Yes, if you have small checks you can put MOHHC instead of the longer name in the payee line.)

It was just announced the new center will be ideally located next to the Chattanooga Aquarium, so that the millions who visit the waterfront area can stop by. Coolidge Park, a popular 13-acre park that opened in 1999 in honor of the valiant World War II sergeant, is located across the river from the proposed Medal of Honor location.

‘LIFETIME OF HONOR’ VETERAN MEMBERSHIP

Veterans (or their loved ones) can purchase a lifetime membership in the Medal of Honor heritage center in the veteran’s name for a $500 donation. Forms are available on the website or by requesting materials from the post office box address above.

THE MEDAL OF HONOR INCLUDES CONFEDERATES

When Abraham Lincoln asked Gideon Wells, at the time the Secretary of the Navy, to seek a design for the Medal of Honor, the winning design included 34 stars, at the time the number of states in the Union and, yes, including the 11 Confederate states. The stars are also symbolic of the "heavens and the divine goal which man has aspired to since time immemorial" according to Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress back in 1777.

During the Civil War, the Union Army issued about 1,500 Federal Medals of Honor whereas 50 Confederate Medals of Honor were awarded. Among the most notable was that to Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest (Later promoted to Lt. Gen. of the Cavalry Corps Army of Tennessee) for saving Nashville and Murfreesboro from being burned.

YOUNGEST AWARD WINNER EARNED HIS AT AGE 11

Born in New York, 11-year-old Willie Johnston enlisted in the Union Army alongside his father, serving as a drummer boy with the 3rd Vermont Infantry during the Civil War. In June 1862, overpowered by Confederate forces, his unit retreated down the Virginia Peninsula under orders from General George McClellan. Along the way, the men discarded their equipment to hasten their pace.

Young Willie, however, clung to his drum throughout the march and was later asked to play for his entire division on July 4. When Abraham Lincoln heard about the drummer’s bravery, he recommended him for the Medal of Honor, and Willie received the award in September 1863.

royexum@aol.com

 


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