The State Funeral for World War II Veterans organization announced that World War II Technical Sergeant, Charles H. Coolidge, U.S. Army from Tennessee will receive this year’s national George Marshall Award. The honor recognizes a prominent American who best celebrates the sacrifice, resilience, and service of the 16 million women and men who served in the Armed Forces during World War II.
Five Star U.S. Army General George Marshall led the American military during World War II. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him “the organizer of the Allied Victory in the Second World War.” He was Army Chief of Staff from 1939 till 1945. General Marshall later served as Secretary of State under President Truman where he crafted the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe.
Previous winners of this national award were Hershel “Woody” Williams in 2020, who is the only other living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Second World War, and Congressman Steve Scalise in 2019. In 2017 Congressman Scalise survived an assassination attempt during a Congressional baseball practice.
United States Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee will present the George Marshall Award to WWII Army Sergeant Coolidge and his family on Friday at a special ceremony at the new Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. Third District Congressman Chuck Fleischmann will also be represented at the event.
From Signal Mountain, Mr. Coolidge received his Medal of Honor for his action on Oct. 24-26, 1944 in France. Here is a summary of his gallant activity at that time:
"Leading a section of heavy machineguns supported by 1 platoon of Company K, he took a position near Hill 623, east of Belmont sur Buttant, France, with the mission of covering the right flank of the 3d Battalion and supporting its action. On that day he came upon an enemy force in the woods estimated to be an infantry company. T/Sgt. Coolidge, attempting to bluff the Germans by a show of assurance and boldness called upon them to surrender, whereupon the enemy opened fire. With his carbine, T/Sgt. Coolidge wounded two of them. There being no officer present with the force, T/Sgt. Coolidge at once assumed command. Many of the men were replacements recently arrived; this was their first experience under fire. T/Sgt. Coolidge, unmindful of the enemy fire delivered at close range, walked along the position, calming, and encouraging his men and directing their fire.
The attack was thrown back. Through Oct. 25-26, the enemy launched repeated attacks against the position of this combat group, but each was repulsed due to T/Sgt. Coolidge's able leadership. On Oct. 27, German infantry, supported by two tanks, made a determined attack on the position. The area was swept by enemy small arms, machinegun, and tank fire. T/Sgt. Coolidge armed himself with a bazooka and advanced to within 25 yards of the tanks. His bazooka failed to function, and he threw it aside. Securing all the hand grenades he could carry, he crawled forward and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing enemy. Finally, it became apparent that the enemy, in greatly superior force, supported by tanks, would overrun the position. T/Sgt. Coolidge, displaying great coolness and courage, directed and conducted an orderly withdrawal, being himself the last to leave the position.
As a result of T/Sgt. Coolidge's heroic and superior leadership, the mission of this combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods."
Born in 1921, making him the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, Mr. Coolidge graduated from Chattanooga High School and worked at his father’s printing business as a book binder, a profession also engaged in by Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Clemens as young men.
"The Coolidge family has a long history of service to America, including the current generation where Charles Coolidge, Jr. rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force,” said State Funeral for World War II Veterans Chairman Lee William (Bill) McNutt. "We are blessed to make this award to him, just as we were blessed to make this award to his friend Woody Williams last year. These men are parts of American history that cannot be replaced."
All members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation in Washington D.C. have called on the White House to support the State Funeral for World War II Veterans’ mission, which is for the President to designate a State Funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. The letter was signed last September by both United States Senators and by Congressmen Mark Green, Chuck Fleischmann, John Rose, Dr. David Roe, David Kustoff, Jim Cooper, Tim Burchett, Dr. Scott DeJarlais, and Steve Cohen.
In total, 472 Americans received the nation’s highest military honor during the Second World War. Today, only two remain. “The approximately 340,000 remaining veterans of the Second World War will benefit from a State Funeral in Washington D.C. for the final MOH recipient from World War II,” said Charlie Sell, Tennessee State co-chair for the organization. “This will be a final salute to the greatest generation.”
MOH Hershel Williams said the following upon receiving the award last year, “Soon the World War II generation will be extinct. A State Funeral for the last of us to go will be part of history that cannot be erased. We can never do enough to thank the World War II Generation who gave us the world we enjoy today.”
“Charles Coolidge also received the Silver Star and the Bronze Star during his time in combat,” said Don Ballard, a Vietnam War veteran who received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1970 for heroism in the Quang Tri Province in 1968. “During that time in America’s history, it is amazing how The Greatest Generation stepped up to fight for the freedom our country represents. It is up to our generation to show gratitude to that World War II generation for the example they set for all generations to follow.”
Keith Hardison, executive director of the new National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga said, “State Funeral for World War II Veterans is organized in 38 states and has over 13,000 petitions to the White House to support its mission. It is impressive that Mr. McNutt and his team got the Tennessee legislature to pass its resolution in July of 2019 calling on the President to provide a state funeral in Washington DC for the last remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipient when he passes away.”
This effort is the brainchild of Mr. McNutt’s 10-year-old daughter, Rabel, a public school student, in honor of her godfather, Walter Ehlers, the oldest holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor when he died in 2014. He received the medal for his gallantry during the Battle for Normandy in France, in June 1944.
The Tennessee Congressional Delegation is one of eight states to write a unified letter to the President to encourage him to use his sole authority under American law to designate a State Funeral in Washington DC for the final MOH holder from World War II.