On Tuesday, an American hero turned 99 years old. To celebrate, two of his sons, the small staff at the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center and hundreds of admirers and supporters threw a birthday party in honor of one of Chattanooga's most well-known sons.
Charles H. Coolidge could not be there for his 99th birthday party, but to commemorate the day, the center that bears his name after opening in February hosted a gathering to celebrate the life of Coolidge and his accomplishments.
Keith Hardison, executive director of the center, said officials had the idea to ask people around the nation to send in birthday cards for Coolidge. Hardison hoped to receive one for every year the war hero has been alive.
By Tuesday afternoon, the center had received more than 300.
"Charles, [and] all of these Medal of Honor recipients, were true heroes," Hardison said. "They were all ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extreme situations. And he's our homegrown hero."
Coolidge, born and raised on Signal Mountain, will be remembered for many things. At the top of the list will be as a war hero who fought for four days in northeast France while leading 27 infantrymen against the German military in October 1944.
For more than 14 months during the Nazi invasion, Coolidge served in Europe, starting with a treacherous boat ride from North Africa to Italy.
After months of firefights, the technical sergeant led a section of heavy machine guns with a platoon of fewer than 30 men to take a position near Hill 623 east of Belmont sur Buttant, France, a crucial position near the German border.
For four days, with little ammunition, Coolidge and his men survived six counterattacks from the Germans trying to make it up the hill. On the fourth morning, Oct. 27, the Germans brought up two tanks for the seventh counterattack.
Lt. Gen. Charles H. Coolidge Jr., Coolidge's oldest son, said Tuesday that his family is blessed to have such strong support for his father and his father's legacy in the community. His father will always be the first to say the awards and honors are never about him but about his family and his men, he said.
"We're hoping for an even bigger party when he turns 100," Hardison said.
To learn more about the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center and its new fundraising campaign, visit mohhc.org.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.