This country has had many sons who could be called men of honor (a number have been awarded the medal of honor), several of whom have lived in Tennessee. One of the most well known being Desmond Thomas Doss. Yet, he is not the only one that has called the mountains near Chattanooga, Tennessee home. This week's man of honor, the first in what I hope will be a much longer series, is Charles Henry Coolidge.
On the 4th of August 1921, a son was born to Walter Parlin and Grace Irene McCracken Coolidge. Charles and his family lived on Signal Mountain. Charles' father owned and ran Chattanooga Printing & Engraving. CP&E was founded in December 1910 and still carries on the legacy of printing in the Chattanooga area. After Charles graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1939, he went to work for his father as a book binder.
"Despite the Great Depression, his father worked hard to keep the business open and his employees paid, teaching Coolidge about loyalty and duty, lessons which served him well in the army. Graduating from high school in 1939, Coolidge opted out of going to college that fall. When asked why he had not, Coolidge replied that he figured war was coming and 'it didn’t take a whole lot of education to go and shoot people.' "(1)
Charles joined the army on 16 June 1942. He trained in various locations in the southeast (including North Carolina and Georgia) before seeing action in the European theater, in the spring of 1943. He saw action in Italy and then in 1944 a battle would take place which would result in Charles being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"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 June 1945 at the age of 23." (2)
Charles said in response to a question of his survival:
"'I didn’t care about me, I cared about my men. I’d do anything for them.' Coolidge survived the war, and, miraculously, was never wounded—a feat which he credited to his faith." (1)
"When told he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor, Coolidge told his superior officer that he would rather go home to Tennessee. 'I’m not ashamed to admit it. I didn’t want to go to war but it was my duty as a citizen,' he said. Coolidge was later told that Medal nominees are supposed to be removed from the front lines.
'So much for that. I didn’t know about the reg[ulation] and neither did anyone else so I stayed in combat, on the line,' Coolidge said.
'On the line,' for Coolidge, meant more than two years on front lines in Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. Some have said that Coolidge saw more front-line action than any other American soldier during World War II and was, miraculously, never injured in battle.
General Frederick Haislip presented the Medal to Coolidge on June 18, 1945, at a bombed-out airfield near Dornstadt, Germany." (3)
Upon returning from World War Two, Charles married Frances Seepe (who passed away 16 May 2009). The couple settled on Signal Mountain, a place they had both called home for many years. Charles continued to work for CP&E (including taking over the business from his father) after WWII up until his retirement at the age of 95. His wife Frances was instrumental in getting a park in downtown Chattanooga named for her husband. Charles passed away on 6 April 2021 (at the age of 99) at a hospital near his beloved Signal Mountain. He is buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery.
For more information, I have included the Congressional Medal of Honor Society's video about Charles Coolidge, below:
Whether it be the mountains of Tennessee or the mountains of France, words can play a vital role in helping others. These words can be spoken or typed, all that is needed is the courage to think them.
Charles Henry Coolidge:
Congressional Medal of Honor Society ~ Charles H. Coolidge
East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association ~ Charles H. Coolidge
Heritage Funeral Home ~ Tribute for Charles H. Coolidge
National Medal of Honor Heritage Center ~ Charles Henry Coolidge, Sr. Obituary
National World War Two Museum Digital Collections ~ Coolidge, Charles
Tennessean ~ Tennessee’s bravest man refused to surrender in WWII
University of Knoxville ~ Transcript of An Interview with Charles H. Coolidge World War Two Medal of Honor Recipient
Desmond Thomas Doss:
Congressional Medal of Honor Society ~ Desmond T. Doss
National World War Two Museum ~ Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss, US Army: Medal of Honor Series