Gerber: Coolidge stamp honors valor of local hero

Gerber: Coolidge stamp honors valor of local hero

November 17th, 2013 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Alison Gerber

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Johnny Cash, Girl Scouts, the War of 1812, modern American art and the Chinese New Year.

These are all things that are commemorated on stamps stacked in my kitchen drawer.

I love stamps, or, to be more clear, the artwork on stamps. I pick out stamps about things that pique my interest. So I was pleased to hear that someone the Times Free Press has written many stories about over the years will grace a U.S. stamp.

Chattanoogan Charles H. Coolidge is among the last living recipients of the Medal of Honor from World War II. Two other local World War II Medal of Honor recipients include Rising Fawn, Ga., resident Desmond Doss, who died in 2006, and Cleveland native Paul Huff, who died in 1994.

Coolidge -- for whom Coolidge Park on the riverfront is named -- is now 92. He was a young man, just 23, when he led a group of men without a commander as they held off a German attack, for which he received the medal.

His youthful face is featured on a new set of Forever stamps that pay tribute to the 464 people who have received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for service during World War II.

The U.S. Postal Service stamps depict the Army and Navy Medals of Honor and include photographs of the living recipients on the stamp sheet.

Almost half the medal recipients died during the war and received the medal posthumously. When the postal service received approval for the stamp last year, 12 were alive. Now only eight remain.

Coolidge is one.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said he hopes the stamps will help preserve our veterans' stories for future generations. "I urge you to use these stamps and mail them around the nation and the world ... Let them serve as small reminders of the giant sacrifices made by the heroes of World War II," he said in a news release.

Coolidge's story is dramatic and heroic. According to his Medal of Honor citation: An Army sergeant, he was leading a section of heavy machine guns in France in October 1944 when it ran into a German infantry company. Coolidge called upon the Germans to surrender. Instead, they opened fire.

No officer was present and Coolidge took command, leading the men for four cold, rainy days in dense woods. Many of the men had never before been under enemy fire. While the Germans fired at close range, Coolidge walked along the position, calming and encouraging his men and directing their fire. For three days, Coolidge and his men repulsed enemy attacks. On the fourth day, German infantry attacked the position, supported by two tanks.

Coolidge and his men faced small arms, machine gun and tank fire. Coolidge armed himself with a bazooka and walked to within 25 yards of the tanks, but his bazooka failed. He threw it aside, grabbed all the hand grenades he could carry and crawled forward. Using the grenades, he caused heavy German casualties.

Once it became clear that the Germans -- with tanks and more soldiers -- would overrun the Americans, Coolidge directed a withdrawal "displaying great coolness and courage."

By regulation, anyone nominated for the Medal of Honor is supposed to be pulled from combat, but no one told Coolidge that, and he spent two more years in the war, fighting in France, Sicily, Italy and Germany. He has said that he didn't want to go to war, but felt it was his patriotic duty.

As more WWII veterans pass away and with only eight Medal of Honor winners from the war still alive, let's hope people take the postmaster general's suggestion to learn Coolidge's story and tell it to others.

Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com.