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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Members of the Honor Guard carry the casket of World War II Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Coolidge to the pavilion at the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Friday, April 16, 2021.

The sound of a piece of packing tape being peeled off the roll cut through the silence on McCallie Avenue.

Hunter Black, a clerk at the law offices of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, was decorating a brick ledge outside the building with small American flags. The funeral procession was about 20 minutes out.

"We wanted Mr. Coolidge and his family to know how much we appreciate him and his service to our country," Black said. "This is a small way to honor him."

A ceremony for Charles H. Coolidge, the country's oldest Medal of Honor recipient when he died April 6 at 99, was about to begin down the street at First Presbyterian Church. An hour after that, Coolidge would be laid to rest at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Friday was a day to say farewell to one of Chattanooga's most beloved sons. A hero in every sense of the word and a military veteran who redefined what it meant to be brave, Coolidge was a proud son, brother, father and grandfather who never wanted to be in the spotlight but nevertheless lived in it because of the courage he showed more than 70 years ago at a European border town in France.

Black said when he thinks of Coolidge, he's reminded that ordinary people — even the ones born in your own hometown — can go on to do extraordinary things.

READ MORE: How the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center hopes to help teach civics, character to students

"It's incredible how brave he was," Black said. "Even when he was outnumbered."

A motorcade of 10 state troopers and sheriff's deputies escorted Coolidge's casket to the church. A charter bus full of family members had arrived 10 minutes prior and took their seats in the pews.

Further down on McCallie, small American flags lined the lawn at the Salvation Army where the flag on the pole was flown at half mast.

Photo Gallery

Funeral of Medal of Honor recipient Charles H. Coolidge

Outside the National Cemetery, Chattanooga and Signal Mountain fire trucks flashed their lights on Holtzclaw Avenue. Two of the ladder trucks held a gigantic American flag above the cemetery's entrance. An entire grade from McCallie School held flags and signs. People started to trickle in from far-away parking spots to stand on the road and give a final salute to a local legend.

Standing far away from the crowds was Richard Floyd. Floyd was born in 1944, the same year Coolidge led his men against seven counterattacks from the Germans that ultimately earned him the Medal of Honor.

"I've just stood here and wept," Floyd said. "I was fortunate enough to know the Coolidge family, speak to Charles a handful of times, and he was one of the most humble people I have ever met. I am here today because my heart is here."

Beth Mulkey stood near the entrance before the procession began. She brought two youngsters — one in the Boys Scouts and one in the Girls Scouts — to show their respect for Coolidge.

"He did a lot for our city, and I'm glad we're able to call him our own," Mulkey said.

Lt. Gen. Charles H. Coolidge Jr., Coolidge's eldest son, said even though his father is now gone, his contribution to the country's history can never be replaced. Coolidge Jr. then repeated a line his late wife would always use that best summed up Coolidge's life.

"Life is God's gift to us, what we do with that life is our gift to God."

A hundred yards away from the ceremony, a five-member grounds crew took a break from an especially busy day.

"These days are always a little different," Robert Hall said. "Just making sure we have everything the family requested, making sure everything looks right and presentable. We want to show them the respect all veterans deserve."

The crew agreed that it's important to make everything as perfect as it could be, knowing every burial is for someone who put their life on the line for the country.

"Our main priority is to them," Charles McReynolds said. "No veteran gets left behind."

That's how Charles H. Coolidge lived. The only thing he ever left behind was a life worth celebrating, today and always.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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