published Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Coolidge reflects on the Medal of Honor, his work and the park named for him

Charles Coolidge, the Chattanooga native who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his meritorious service in World War II and for whom Coolidge Park is named, will turn 90 years old on Thursday.

Friends and family will honor him with a celebration at the riverfront park named for him on Saturday.

Coolidge, the co-owner of Chattanooga Printing and Engraving, still works every day and, with his scooter chair and his "honey" of a Chrysler van, says he goes practically wherever he wants.

"I wouldn't be happy sitting at home," he said. "I have a nice house [on Signal Mountain] overlooking the river and Baylor School and looking at Lookout Mountain. Even though I don't walk, [God's] provided me with other ways."

With the exception of the multiple sclerosis that has somewhat limited Coolidge's mobility, he is in good health and has a clear memory.

"God's been good to me," he said.

Below are excerpts of an interview with the Medal of Honor winner.

Q: Do you ever reflect on the incidents that led to you being awarded the Medal of Honor?

A: I think about it because I have [people] come in ... once a week or every other week. They want to talk about it, and you know most [World War II veterans] are about out of here. Or not that many can recall it. [On the incident itself, in which he and a platoon of inexperienced soldiers held off a much larger company of German troops for three days,] you know they were shooting at me most of the time. When there's shooting, you don't forget most of the time.

Q: How did what is now Coolidge Park come to be named after you?

A: Coolidge Day was Aug. 8, 1945. ... There was entertaining here, there and everywhere. They couldn't do enough for me. But everybody had somebody they were kin to who deserved recognition [for what they did in WWII]. ... [At Riverside Park, the acreage along the river that was renamed for him,] I played in [baseball] tournaments. I think they had four tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Instead of Riverside Park, it was Coolidge Riverside Park. The Riverside gradually dropped away.

Q: Did you despair anything would ever be done with the park?

A: I think [the city] leased it to the Navy [not long after it was named for Coolidge] for what I thought was 99 years. They said it was 49. ... Really, truthfully, it was fenced [to keep people out] most of those years. I think I was there once when a flagpole got put up. At the end of the 49, I thought they'd lease it again for 49 more. But it works out [that something good came out of it.]

Q: How often do you visit the park?

A: Before my wife died, two years and two months ago, we'd ride through every day when I would leave the office, around 4:30 or 5 [p.m.] Sometimes, we'd get out and walk to the carousel. ... I'm thankful for any activity I can do. Most of the time, I go where I want to go. I ride [the scooter chair he's used for 28 years] back into the van. They lock me in and put a seatbelt on me. It's very comfortable, and most places are accessible.

Q: I know the city probably doesn't consult you, but how do you feel about all the activities that go on at Coolidge Park?

A: I check on them. They're doing a good job -- a wonderful job. I think [its current usage] is really what a park in this area is for and not just for use by one segment of the military.

Q: Do you have any thought about how to prevent the youth trouble that occasionally crops up at Coolidge Park?

A: I think anywhere you've got that number of people, there will be a few ruffles. I think [on the whole] it's amazingly quiet, well patrolled. The other day when I went by, there were seven police cars. It's well used, and most of the people enjoy it. That's what we like to see.

Q: Did you start your printing and engraving business?

A: My dad [Walter P. Coolidge Sr.] started it in 1910. I went into it before I left for the war. I was a bookbinder by trade. When I came back, I was offered another job I thought I might like with the Veterans Administration. I enjoyed it, actually more so than the printing business. But I thought [his father's business] needed me worse. ... [Work is] good for you. It keeps you active. ... I think everything works out for those that love the Lord.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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