Charles Henry Coolidge
Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company M, 141st Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. For actions east of Belmont sur Buttant, France.
October 24, 1944
Coolidge was born and entered service at Signal Mountain, TN. Coolidge joined as an enlisted man and intended to return home as one, even refusing a battlefield commission for bravery before October 1944. That's when he found himself, with no officer present, the senior enlisted man overseeing a group of "replacement" troops trying to hold a vital position for four long, harrowing days.
In a cold rain, Coolidge led his inexperienced men through dense woods to a hilltop position east of Belmont sur Buttant, France, on October 24, 1944. With a section of heavy machine guns supported by one platoon of Company K to cover the right flank of the 3d Battalion. Coolidge went forward with a sergeant of Company K to coordinate positions for the machine guns.
In the woods, they met an enemy force, estimated to be an infantry company. Coolidge, attempting to bluff the large German force by a show of boldness, called upon them to surrender. When the enemy opened fire, Coolidge wounded two of them with his carbine. With no officer present, Coolidge assumed command and, unmindful of the enemy fire delivered at close range, walked along the position, calming and encouraging his men and directing their fire.
Under his able leadership the inexperienced men repulsed repeated attacks throughout Oct. 25 and 26. On October 27, German infantry, with by two tanks, made a determined attack on the position and swept the area with small arms, machinegun, and tank fire, coming so close that the German commander stood up and told Coolidge (in excellent English) to surrender. “Sorry, Mac, you’ll have to come and get me,” Coolidge told him.
Instead, Coolidge armed himself with a bazooka and boldly advanced to within 25 yards of the tanks. When his bazooka failed he threw it aside. With all the hand grenades he could carry, he crawled forward and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing enemy. When it became apparent that the enemy’s much force would overrun the position, Coolidge, displaying great coolness and courage, directed an orderly withdrawal and was the last to leave the position. As a result of his heroic and superior leadership, the mission of this combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops.
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 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.
In 2006, Coolidge was belatedly awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Consulate, in a ceremony at the Chattanooga riverfront park named for him. Opened in 1999, Coolidge Park is a 13-acre public park on the north shore of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga. The park includes a restored historic carousel, and interactive water feature, a multi-purpose pavilion, a canoe/kayak launch, a floating restaurant, curving walkways, green meadows and river overlooks.
Coolidge returned to the Chattanooga area, where he continued to work in his family's printing business, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010.