One of many acts of extraordinary individual’s courage in World War II was performed by a native of Dunlap, Tennessee, Staff Sergeant Raymond H. Cooley. Born on May 14, 1916, Cooley entered the United States Army in Richard City, Tennessee outside of South Pittsburg. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a Staff Sergeant and he earned the Medal of Honor in a battle which occurred at Luzon, Philippines on February 24, 1945.
Cooley was the leader of a platoon that was assigned the task of knocking out the Japanese observation point that had been harassing American positions. After an extensive search through the jungle, the well protected outpost was located at the end of the day and the platoon camped the night of the 23rd within approximately 300 yards of the heavily fortified position.
The next morning, Cooley’s platoon attacked but their advance was soon slowed down by heavy machine gun fire from two locations. The gun placements were also protected by riflemen firing from slit trenches on the hillside. All of the advancing American soldiers were pinned down by the withering gunfire except Cooley who continued to advance throwing hand grenades.
Due to the heavy concentration of enemy fire, Cooley did not hold the grenades the maximum number of seconds after pulling the pins and hurling them at the enemy. As a result, the Japs threw several back at Cooley. As his advance was being imperiled by the re-thrown grenades, Cooley wisely delayed the timing of his release of the deadly weapons.
By holding the grenade for three seconds before throwing the grenades towards the Japs, he was able to stop the dangerous game of “playing catch” with his foes. Cooley destroyed one enemy gun next and then advanced to wipe out a second.
Raymond was joined by several of his fellow soldiers and the Japanese rushed towards him and his men screaming like savages. As he attempted to throw another grenade, he was surrounded by both his fellow soldiers and the Japs. Having pulled the pin, he could not find a place to hurl the grenade without endangering the lives of his buddies.
In a moment of valor that would eventually become a part of his historic display of devotion to his fellow soldiers, Sergeant Cooley “gripped his right hand over the grenade….and shoved the missile beneath the stock of his rifle.”
After the grenade exploded, Cooley suffered the loss of his right hand and sustained other wounds in the forehead, right eye, nose, both shoulders, right thigh and his stomach.
He underwent a long rehabilitation period and received medical treatment from field and base hospitals and McCroskey Hospital in Temple, Texas.
Cooley was awarded the Purple Heart Award along with several other medals and ribbons and was decorated by President Harry S. Truman on August 23, 1945, along with 27 other military heroes in the courtroom of the White House in Washington, D.C. Truman stated that “he considered winning the Medal of Honor, a bigger award than being President”.
Cooley wore the Purple Heart Medal, the combat infantryman’s badge, the Asiatic-Pacific theatre ribbon with three major battles participation stars, the pre-Pearl Harbor ribbon, good conduct ribbon and the Philippines liberation ribbon.
Before the Philippines battles, Cooley participated in the battles of Guadalcanal and the New Guinea invasion. Sgt. Cooley proudly served with the 25th Division, 27th Infantry, Co. B of the Army.
Unfortunately, the seriousness of his war injuries resulted in Cooley becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was killed in a one car accident on March 12, 1947, when his convertible coupe ran into a tree and landed in a ditch. He was buried in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga with full military honors.
In 2017, the Tennessee legislature, upon request of the City Commission of Dunlap and State Representative Ron Travis, state highway 28 between Jasper and I-24 was officially named the Raymond H. Cooley Highway.
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Jerry Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org