A highlight of Friday’s memorial service for Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Coolidge at First Presbyterian Church was the roughly 18-minute eulogy given by his son, retired Lt. Gen. Charles H. Coolidge Jr.
Gen. Coolidge, who had his own military service graduating from the Air Force Academy and serving in the U.S.
Air Force from 1968-2004 commanding an Air Refueling Wing, told plenty of stories of his father not mentioned in the citations of his heroism in World War II.
Gen. Coolidge Jr. mentioned his father’s days as a young athlete, as a father who coached sports teams and taught Sunday school, and as a public servant who declined seeking political office but found countless other ways to serve veterans and others.
Most of all, he was a man of integrity, who tried to make his community a better place even before and after he received the Medal of Honor, his son said.
Here is a full transcript of the eulogy:
On behalf of the family I would again like to thank you all for being here. I start my remarks today with extreme gratitude to my brothers, Bill and John, who worked with and cared for my father throughout his whole life, but particularly his latter years, especially during his declining health.
Also, for the many caregivers, particularly Rosie Von Canon, Candy Hawkins, Brandon Coolidge, Kimberly Everett and John Coolidge Jr. Each of you made a difference in the quality of Dad’s life so he could continue to make a difference in ours.
I also express the family’s sincere thanks to those all who made this particular service and services possible, particularly Colleen Lindner, Brad Coolidge, Clark Lindner, the First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard, and Tennessee National Guard.
Gen. George Patton once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who die. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” My father consistently honored those who served and today we honor him in this service. Dad was a member of the Greatest Generation. The hardships that generation faced were unparalleled, as they grew up in an age of poverty during the Great Depression followed by a great world war.
But these circumstances did not make the Greatest Generation. They earned that moniker through their response to their hardships. It was this adversity that formed their character – courage, work ethic, determination. Dad was the very definition of the latter. He persevered through so many difficulties in his life, and yet he did so with a smile on his face.
His generation believed in personal responsibility, humility, frugality and faithfulness. Even a speech impediment at his young age would not slow him down, nor would a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which affected the last 55-plus years of his life. He had an unrelenting positive attitude, which sustained him throughout every obstacle he faced.
Born on Signal Mountain in a small, two-bedroom house nearly a century ago, he grew up roaming the mountain through woods, climbing cliffs, having fun that young men do. He was given the responsibilities at a young age, something he passed on to his three sons. His father founded the Chattanooga Printing and Engraving Co. in 1910, the same year this church moved to this building.
And back then printing was hard and labor intensive. The Great Depression dominated his teen years. Dad worked double shifts at the printing company and at the TVA reproduction department. His father instilled in him a strong work ethic, which Dad continued to exhibit throughout his whole life.
Later in his life my father would teach my brothers the printing business and they worked side by side with him for almost 50 years.
According to my father, this family-owned printing business was in his blood. Dad graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1939, where he was a track star and an excellent tennis player and had a ferocious serve. I can witness that.
Not long after graduation, a plant manager asked him why he had not left for college yet. His response was it doesn’t take a college-educated man to go to war. The plant manager was confused and asked him what he was talking about. Dad told him he had seen the movie theater newsreels. “Mark my word,” he said. “We’re headed for war.”
Less than three years later at the young age of 20, he was drafted on June 16, 1942. He joined over 16 million Americans who would serve in uniform. We are all aware of the fact that Dad was a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.
Those of us who grew up with him heard the stories and read the citation. I was old enough to appreciate what the Medal of Honor was. He was a role model for me, my two brothers and many, many others.
Being a Medal of Honor recipient didn’t make him a role model, nor does it make any other person who holds the medal one, either. The medal serves to call attention to their outstanding character. Those character traits that he exhibited -- patriotism, citizenship, courage integrity, sacrifice, commitment -- we identify those with the Medal of Honor recipients.
Well before receiving it himself, he served as an example as a person of how to live their life, positive thinking, integrity, sacrifice and a good dose of work ethic. If there is one thing we learned from dad, it is a positive attitude that gets you from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ to ‘I will.’ He taught us the foundation for every success and failure in life is your attitude.
And the good news is we can control our attitudes. I saw him do that countless times throughout his life. No matter what hurdle was thrown his way, whether it was a tank, crippling disease or something else, he faced it with a positive attitude. That’s how he chose to live his life.
And it is the example he set for his sons, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons and great-granddaughters. Dad had a lighter side to himself as well. We witnessed it daily. He lived by the words he had to repeat time after time in his speech impediment classes – proper preparation prevents poor performance.
He would then repeat that phrase if we were not exhibiting the standards he would set for us, especially if we weren’t doing our homework on time. He taught us accountability as well. If we complained we were too sick to go to church or Sunday school on Sunday, the rule was we were too sick to do anything fun until the next weekend.
If we were supposed to cut the grass and weren’t moving fast enough, he would tell us, “Son, you are burning daylight.” And by the way there was a penalty to that, too – you got to do it at night.
We were on vacation once, and one morning he told us, “It’s a great morning for the race.” Of course, we wanted to know what race he was talking about. He said as he smiled, “The human race, son.”
I always looked forward to Sunday afternoon rides with Dad. After church and lunch, we would always jump in the car. We never knew where he was taking us, not even mom. These were the years after World War II, when homes and new subdivisions were popping up all over the place. What always amazed us was Dad always knew where he was going, and he could always find his way back to the very beginning.
He was extremely observant, which I suspect paid off for him in the war. But it paid off on countless occasions since. One night some of my friends decided to redecorate the youth minister’s yard with toilet paper. Dad noticed an odd car parked in the neighborhood not too far from our house. He walked outside and he could hear the periodic thump from the sound up the street.
He walked over to the car, sat in the driver’s seat and patiently waited for their re-appearance. When they did, he said, “OK boys, let’s go clean it up.” That was not real happy for me with my friends later.
Dad was both a Sunday school teacher and elder in this church as well as the one on Signal Mountain. He was our family’s spiritual leader. And we were fortunate to hear his Sunday school lesson preparations as he was preparing them. Faith was the foundation of our lives.
Dad was also our biggest cheerleader. He always went to our ball games, our wrestling matches (John) and swim meets and was even our coach on occasion. When he was our coach, he never wanted anyone to feel left out, so everybody got a chance to play. I can remember his buying shoes and gloves for those who could not afford them.
Dad’s belief was that everyone was to be respected and treated as you would want to be treated. That applied to adults, too. He said it wasn’t what you said to people that was important, it was how you made them feel.
Dad was always in for fun with us, and I can’t remember the number of water balloon and snowball fights we had. He taught us how to swim, body surf in the ocean, fly kites and countless other things that young boys really need to learn. He took us sledding, and when we decided to go all the way down Shoal Creek Road up on Signal Mountain, he would pick us up in the car on the bottom and drive us back to the top.
Occasionally, Dad would draw the line, though. I can remember one time vividly when one of us boys wanted to go camping. His answer was short and to the point – “I’ve had all the camping I care to. Two years is enough.”
Dad and Mom also gave us opportunities to expand our horizons. One Saturday, when I was in the sixth grade, we drove to the family-owned printing company, as was our custom, when Mom turned around and handed me two No. 2 pencils and said, “Dad and I have decided that you will take the test to go to Baylor School today.” She made it very clear to me that they could not afford to send me to Baylor, but I was to take the test anyway. So, I did, and few events in my life have affected me more.
Dad was our best friend, too. For example, he served as the best man in my wedding. He was not afraid to tell us he loved us, and we loved him, something that continued until the very end of his life.
Of course, Dad had a serious side, too. He was highly patriotic. He felt God had spared his life for a reason. Dad and Mom were always serious about their civic duties. Etched in my mind is Dad taking care of his parents in their elder years. Also etched in my mind is Dad and another veteran folding a flag at the Chattanooga National Cemetery and presenting it to the next of kin. He did it countless times.
When American Legion Post 14 was in debt and suffering from poor management, the post members asked him to be post commander. He used his tremendous business acumen to reorganize the way it was run. When the post suffered a catastrophic fire later which destroyed the entire building, Dad turned the disaster into a way to attract more members and rebuild.
I also remember both political parties seeking his candidacy for political office. Each assured him he would win easily. Dad and Mom discussed it and decided he did not want to serve in that way. Dad never sought notoriety, but he did believe in service and paying back.
In spite of the numerous accomplishments I touched on today, Dad was one of the most humble men you would ever meet. He would always try to divert attention he was getting to other people, particularly veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
As Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few.” Dad truly believed that. He had many honors bestowed on him, including the dedication of a park, a highway and even appeared on a circular promoting a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Medal of Honor.
But I believe he was most proud of the newly dedicated National Medal of Honor Heritage Center because he knew it would help preserve the memory of those who had made the supreme sacrifice for their country and serve to educate present and future generations.
Being there at the grand opening in February 2020 to witness my father experience the exhibits surrounded by his family and friends that day, I will never forget it.
The Heritage Center is the capstone of his legacy that my father has left behind – a legacy of service and sacrifice. He lived a life of honor both before and after he received the Medal of Honor.
The sorrow we feel today is matched only by the joy we have in knowing he lived a long life. He lived it well and is now with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dad, we all love you, as you loved us. We will miss you. You’re the best father a son could have had. And we’re blessed you made the world better and, much better, we thank God we got to spend these earthly years together. God bless you.
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To see the video of the memorial service, go here:
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