Tennessee has lost a beloved son and one of its bravest men. Local Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Charles Henry Coolidge has died at age 99.
Mr. Coolidge, of Signal Mountain, passed away peacefully on Tuesday at Memorial Hospital while surrounded by family.
He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star in 1944 and the Medal of Honor in 1945 for his remarkable bravery in battle while serving with the 36th Infantry Division in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany during World War II. In 2006, he was belatedly awarded France’s highest military decoration, the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor), by officials of the French consulate.
He was born on Signal Mountain in 1921, and was the son of Walter Parlin Coolidge and Grace Irene McCracken Coolidge.
He graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1939 and went to work in the family business as a book binder at Chattanooga Printing & Engraving.
On June 16, 1942, he entered the Army and, after training in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina, was sent to the European front in the spring of 1943. He saw service in North Africa, Italy (including the infamous crossing of the Rapido River and the Battle for Monte Cassino in early 1944), France and Germany and was part of the first American division to invade Europe during the war. On May 25, 1944, he landed at Anzio with the 36th Infantry Division and helped open the gates of Rome for the 5th Army. It was for his gallant actions at Anzio that he was awarded the Silver Star. He, along with the rest of the 36th Infantry Division, was then pulled out of Italy and the Division landed on the beaches of Southern France in August 1944 to begin their march toward the Siegfried Line.
In October 1944, just east of the small French town of Belmont-sur-Buttant, after securing their objective and leading a section of heavy machine guns and a platoon of men, Technical Sergeant Coolidge ran into an enemy force in the woods estimated to be an infantry company supported by tanks. There being no officer present, he immediately assumed command of the combat group and advanced, in the open, calling for the enemy force to surrender. The enemy answered immediately with automatic weapons fire and, instead of taking cover, Technical Sergeant Coolidge immediately began to get his men dug in and coordinated a counter attack. Over the course of four harrowing days, the enemy launched repeated attacks against the position while Technical Sergeant Coolidge walked up and down the front line in direct line of fire, leading, calming, and reassuring his men, most of whom were fresh recruits. Outnumbered and outgunned, the small combat group was able to repeatedly repel the enemy force due to Coolidge’s adept leadership. As the fighting carried into the fourth day, German reinforcements arrived, and two tanks advanced on Coolidge’s position. It became apparent that the enemy would overrun their position and Coolidge directed an orderly withdrawal, being himself the last to leave the position. The platoon had held off an entire company of German infantry supported by tanks for four days, and not a single American life was lost. For his heroic and superior leadership over those intense four days of fighting, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in July 1945 at the age of 23.
Upon returning to Signal Mountain from his military service, he married the late Frances Seepe Coolidge on October 14, 1945 and started a family. Charles and Frances had three boys, Charles Jr., William (Bill), and John. Charles worked briefly for the Veterans Administration in the years immediately following WWII, but eventually went back to the family business at Chattanooga Printing & Engraving, a company his father founded in 1910. He retired from the family business at the age of 95.
The Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in the heart of downtown Chattanooga is named in his honor, as well as a highway and a park. He was also honored in 2013, being one of only 12 Medal of Honor recipients to be featured on the cover of the Medal of Honor forever stamp sheet issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Additionally, he was recently awarded the 2021 George Marshall Award by the State Funeral for World War II Veterans organization in honor of his significant service.
His brother Walter P. Coolidge, Jr. and sister Mary M. Cissna both preceded him in death.
He is survived by his son Lt. General (Ret) Charles H. Coolidge, Jr., his wife Bonnie and their three children, Charlie, Bradford, his wife Amy and their two children Bradford (Buddy) and Jack, Colleen Lindner, her husband Kent and their daughter Laurel; his son William P. Coolidge, his wife Christie and their three children, Catherine Hagaman, her husband Lance and their son Connelly and two daughters Brighton and Leland, Brandon, Kimberly Everett, her husband Cody, her daughter Jaimie and son Skyler; his son John Coolidge, his wife Marie and their two children, John and Sara.
Visitation will be at Heritage Funeral Home East Brainerd Chapel on Thursday, April 15, from 4-6 p.m. Services will be at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga on Friday, April 16. Burial with a private family committal service will be held at the National Cemetery.
Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga or the Charles H. Coolidge National Heritage Center.
The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center said special tributes are being planning at the Heritage Center to honor his legacy.
Heritage Center officials said, "Today, our city, state, and nation have lost a great American hero with the passing of Charles H. Coolidge. Mr. Coolidge was beloved by all who knew him, and his heroism was legendary. He received the Silver Star for his bravery in combat in Italy and the Medal of Honor for his amazing defense of Hill 623 east of Belmont sur Buttant, France against overwhelming odds in October 1944. Many also remember Mr. Coolidge for his battle against multiple sclerosis, a disease that he refused to allow to define him, for more than half a century.
"Mr. Coolidge was, above all, a model of integrity, honor and determination who is memorialized by a park, a highway, and the many institutions that bear his name. However, his greatest legacy is the hundreds of thousands of lives that he touched during his 99 years on earth."
Mr. Coolidge was the only living Medal of Honor recipient from the European theater of World War II and the only one to receive the Medal of Honor during the war.