Chattanooga resident T/Sgt Charles Coolidge was drafted in 1942 and assigned to Company M of the 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division. The 36th was known as the “Texas Division” because of their membership being primarily made up of Texas National Guard troops. Until April 6 when he passed, he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient. That distinction now belongs to US Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams at 97.
Operation Avalanche – Hill 623
T/Sgt Charles Coolidge fought in Italy and North Africa before transferring to France in 1944. Coolidge was just 23 years old when he found himself in command of twelve replacement troops, none of whom had ever been in combat. They were tasked with “holding off the German forces threatening to attack the right flank of the division’s Third Battalion, 141st Infantry, which was massing with two other battalions outside the tiny town of Belmont-sur-Buttant.” At first they met little resistance on Hill 623, and were ordered to dig in when they reached the top. That didn’t last long.
An enemy unit then came through the thick woods searching for the Americans. Coolidge calmly went out to meet them with one of his Soldiers, George Ferguson, a New Yorker who spoke enough German to get by. He told Ferguson to ask them if they wanted to surrender. During the conversation, Coolidge saw that one of the enemy hiding behind a tree was getting ready to shoot. He instantly lifted and fired his Carbine first, taking out two Germans, and then “all hell broke out.” The ensuing firefight lasted the better part of four days as they fought to hold the hilltop as ordered.
On the fourth day, German tanks rolled up the hill with more infantry behind. The lead tank was within 25-35 meters of Coolidge’s position when the tank commander opened the hatch. Coolidge stood up and looked the tanker directly in the eye. The German then said, in perfect English, “You guys wanna give up?” Coolidge calmly responded, “I’m sorry, Mac. You’ve got to come get me.” The tank’s turret was turned towards where he was standing and fired, but narrowly missed.
The tank fired five times at Coolidge at that close range, missing each time. As the turret swung right, he went left, and vice versa. He used trees as a shield to prevent the shrapnel from tearing into him. When a bazooka that he found lying nearby didn’t fire due to a missing battery, he started throwing grenades. He then went man to man, yelling, giving guidance and encouraging them all while throwing as many grenades as he could.
Unable to withstand the enemy’s overwhelming force, Coolidge eventually ordered his squad to come off the hill, ensuring that he was the last one holding his position. It was later reported that he and his squad, which mostly contained new replacement Soldiers, killed 26 enemy and wounded over 60 on Hill 623. Coolidge was recommended for the Medal of Honor because of the leadership and courage that he showed in the face of the enemy.Lt. Col. Randall Stillinger at Army.mil
T/Sgt Charles Coolidge survived 22 months on the front lines of WWII without being wounded or killed. He was given the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip in a rare battlefield ceremony at Dornstadt, Germany on June 18,1945. His family is intensely proud of his legacy.
His MOH citation reads in part:
T/Sgt. Coolidge armed himself with a bazooka and advanced to within 25 yards of the tanks. His bazooka failed to function and he threw it aside. Securing all the hand grenades he could carry, he crawled forward and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing enemy.
Finally it became apparent that the enemy, in greatly superior force, supported by tanks, would overrun the position. T/Sgt. Coolidge, displaying great coolness and courage, directed and conducted an orderly withdrawal, being himself the last to leave the position.
As a result of T/Sgt. Coolidge’s heroic and superior leadership, the mission of this combat group was accomplished throughout 4 days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods.MOH citation
Coolidge was a soft-spoken Tennessean, according to all who knew him. His desire to take care of his men was the only motivating factor for the actions which earned him the MOH. He told one interviewer that there were a lot of people scared to death in his squad. But he also said, “There’s no glory in the infantry.” R.I.P., T/Sgt Charles Coolidge, hero of Hill 623.
Featured photo: combation of screenshots Charles Coolidge then and now
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