Charles Henry Coolidge Sr., the country's oldest Medal of Honor recipient and beloved Chattanoogan, died on Tuesday at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga. He was 99.
Coolidge received the nation's highest military honor for valor for his actions in the wooded mountains of France in October 1944, when he assumed command of an isolated group of 28 men, then defied the German army and two tanks for four days of continuous fighting. Coolidge was presented the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip in a rare battlefield ceremony June 18, 1945, at a bombed-out airfield near Dornstadt, Germany.
The legacy of the quiet and unassuming Coolidge will reside going forward at the city's largest public space – Coolidge Park – and the new Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, which is dedicated to educating the next generation about the six character traits that embody the heroic recipients of the nation's highest medal.
In addition to the park and the heritage center, Chattanooga and the nation have honored the war hero in many other ways. Part of U.S. Highway 27 was named for Coolidge, and a permanent roadside marker on Signal Mountain was erected to recognize his heroic actions in World War II. He was also honored in 2013, being the first of only 12 Medal of Honor recipients to be featured on the cover of the Medal of Honor forever stamp sheet issued by the U.S. Postal Service.
Coolidge will be buried April 16 at the Chattanooga National Military Cemetery with full military honors reserved specifically for Medal of Honor recipients. His funeral service will be held at First Presbyterian Church, where Coolidge and his family have been members.
Coolidge will be placed alongside his wife, Frances, who died in 2009 at 86. The graveside service at the National Cemetery will be closed to the public. A significant number of the nation's Medal of Honor recipients are expected to attend.
Coolidge battled multiple sclerosis for the last 50-plus years of his life. After leaving the military in 1945, Coolidge spoke frequently around the country and worked at his family's business, Chattanooga Printing & Engraving. He retired from the company officially in 2017 at the age of 95.
Coolidge was born on Aug. 4, 1921, to Walter and Grace Coolidge of Chattanooga. He was one of three children and graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1939.
He is survived by his son Lt. Gen. (Ret) Charles H. Coolidge Jr., his wife Bonnie and their three children, Charlie, Bradford, his wife Amy and their two children Bradford "Buddy" and Jack, Colleen Lindner, her husband Kent and their daughter Laurel; his son William P. Coolidge, his wife Christie and their three children, Catherine Hagaman, her husband Lance and their son Connelly and two daughters Brighton and Leland, Brandon, Kimberly Everett, her husband Cody, her daughter Jaimie and son Skyler; his son John Coolidge, his wife Marie and their two children, John and Sara.
Coolidge was drafted into the military in 1942 and assigned to the 36th Division, 141st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Co. M. The division was known as the "Texas" division, because its 141st regiment was composed of Texas National Guard troops when the division was originally formed in 1917 during World War I.
Coolidge received his medal when his unit turned east into the heavily wooded Voges mountains in fall 1944 and engaged the German army from Oct. 24-27.
Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga or the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center.