Sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, commitment, courage and citizenship: those are the six defining character traits of medal of honor recipients. With the upcoming February opening of the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center, General William B. Raines went before both the City Council and County Commission to raise awareness of the center and its message.
“They may see someone being bullied, and they can have the moral courage to go up to them sand say ‘That’s not right, don’t do that,’” said General Raines on how children can take those traits and use them in their own lives, outside of combat and the military. “And they can exercise that form of leadership in a board room or a city council meeting. Sometimes, people don’t’ speak up to correct wrongs or on behalf of what they think is right. And so, moral courage is one of those.”
General Raines spoke of plans to teach this in every school in Tennessee, telling the council and commission that Governor Bill Lee has endorsed this plan. When telling his audience about the kind of character a person needed to possess and the kind of actions they needed to do to earn the medal, he honored a man he served with in Vietnam.
“The gentleman who fell on the grenade in my unit in Vietnam, he didn’t have time to process that and think about it,” the speaker said. “He knew he wanted to take care of his men and he did the right thing. It was instinctive. So we’re hoping these character traits will be learned and absorbed by the young people.”
The Feb. 22 grand opening will be attended by the oldest Medal of Honor recipient, Charles H. Coolidge. Few have exemplified the traits of the Medal of Honor like the Signal Mountain resident, both during and after his time serving, it was stated.
“He not only lived and exercised the traits in combat, but he continued to live that when he came back here,” said General Raines. “And that’s why Coolidge Park was named after him, that’s why we have the other types of memorials in his honor, so we should not forget the contributions he made for the world and his men.”
Charles Coolidge earned his medal during World War II, when he gallantly lead and inspired his men against overwhelming odds. But that was not the only reason his medal of honor is so notable.
“He had a lot of young recruits, and his lieutenant had been killed, so he had to assume responsibility of untrained and green recruits,” said General Raines. “He had to encourage them to stay in there, and not run for two days! And it was two tanks and two companies of Germans. That was quite a force to fend off, so that’s the heroic part.”
“The second was that the award was presented in the combat field. General Eisenhower had his closest friend, a lieutenant general, come and award that in the field. Typically, it’s awarded at the White House. So it was so significant they wanted to award it now.”
The Heritage Center will have 22 Medal of Honors on display. The center will utilize interactive exhibits to educate visitors about the history of the award and its recipients.
“You’re going to come out and realize there have been some very heroic acts on behalf of us for our nation and our values and the freedom that we have,” said General Raines.