Retired Lt. Gen. Charles Coolidge Jr. never looked for a chance to talk about his famous father.
In a military career spanning five decades, the life of Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Coolidge Sr. was not a subject his son voluntarily discussed.
"I was not ashamed of him, quite the contrary," said Coolidge, now 72 and living just outside of Washington. "He was a role model for me and countless thousands of others, but I wanted to earn everything. I had people since I retired, people with two stars or three stars, tell me they didn't know my father was a Medal of Honor recipient."
The younger Coolidge graduated from Baylor before entering the Air Force Academy, serving in Vietnam, rising to the rank of lieutenant general and then entering the private sector. Since leaving the military, Coolidge has given more than 100 speeches about his father, the second-oldest living Medal of Honor recipient who celebrated his 97th birthday on Aug. 4, 2018.
"I try to talk to him every day," said Coolidge of his father, who has successfully battled multiple sclerosis for more than 50 years. Coolidge, who has worked closely with and helped raise funds for the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, was unable to attend an event earlier this month marking the beginning of construction for the center. But he spoke with the Times Free Press about his father and his legacy.
In one sentence, how would you describe your father to someone who only knows he is from Signal Mountain and won the Medal of Honor?
"He is the most positive person I have ever met. Gen. Colin Powell used to say, 'A positive attitude is a force multiplier.' Charles Coolidge personifies a positive attitude. I believe it is that attitude that has sustained his 'flight through life.'"
Why do you think "integrity" is the right choice of the six character traits for your father?
"My father is driven by his strong beliefs — belief in God, his love of country and devotion to family. My father is a role model for 'The Greatest Generation,' and for posterity. He knows that it takes years to earn and sustain one's integrity and a minute to lose it by compromising one's integrity. Absolute integrity is a true measure of who Charles Coolidge is."
You were not born when Chattanooga honored your father on Aug. 8, 1945. As you learned about the day's events, what stayed with you through the years?
"I was born after World War II — a year and a couple of weeks after my mother and father were married three months after his return home to Chattanooga in 1945. What I keep in my heart from the events in Chattanooga on Aug. 8, 1945, is my father's humility and desire to make the day about all the veterans of World War II (still ongoing) and all wars. It was his desire that the day [and, later, Coolidge Park] be for all who had served our country and especially for those who had made the supreme sacrifice to defend and protect the United States of America. Keep in mind that, at that time, the war in the Pacific was not yet over."
How often do you talk to your father, and what are those conversations like?
"I try to talk with him daily. Sometimes my business travel makes that inconvenient for his normal sleep schedule. Sometimes we talk about the issues of the day, what the family is doing, business at the Chattanooga Printing and Engraving Company (where he still is part owner), his next doctor's appointment or who has visited him during the day. Sometimes we talk about the weather or something we or he has done in the past. I look forward to the time we spend talking. I believe he does, too. We have been truly blessed that Dad is still able and willing to talk to us about anything — past or present. It is a gift from God."
Did you ever consider doing anything else but going into the military?
"My primary motivation for joining the military was attending one of the service academies. I wanted a great undergraduate education, and the service academies offered some of the very best engineering undergraduate curricula and degrees. My father actually influenced my selection by suggesting I attend the newly created Air Force Academy. He has always been a visionary — and an innovator. I have never regretted the choice to serve."
Has it ever been a challenge to be Charles H. Coolidge's son?
"Yes, particularly in Chattanooga. Once I left the Chattanooga area (when I was 17) no one knew unless I told them. Those were days before the internet. I think for me and my two brothers there has always been some pressure to live up to my father's and mother's expectations — which is true of any child. Dad and Mom were always our role models. They were incredibly supportive when we were growing up — they encouraged us to do our best regardless of our activities — sports, schoolwork, community activities. They were great parents."
Contact Davis Lundy at firstname.lastname@example.org.