Charles Coolidge, oldest recipient of Medal of Honor, dead at 99

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Charles H. Coolidge Sr., the country’s oldest winner of the Medal of Honor, died Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was 99.

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Coolidge won the nation’s highest award for valor for his actions in the mountains of France in October 1944 during World War II, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported. Coolidge took over a command of 28 men, then held off the German army and two tanks during four days of continuous fighting, the newspaper reported.

He was presented with the Medal of Honor Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip in a rare battlefield ceremony on June 18m, 1945, on an airfield near Dornstadt, Germany, the Times Free Press reported.

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, a sergeant at the time, was presented with the Medal of Honor by Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip in a rare battlefield ceremony on June 18, 1945, at a bombed-out airfield near Dornstadt, Germany.

Coolidge’s death leaves Hershel W. Williams, 97, as the oldest surviving recipient of the medal, The New York Times reported. Williams received it for his heroism fighting with the Marines on Iwo Jima during World War II.

“We both have been blessed by God with a long, long life,” Williams told the newspaper in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Coolidge had fought with the 36th Infantry Division in Italy before it moved into France, the Times reported. By October 1944, most of the men in his division were replacements for troops that had been killed or wounded and had very little combat experience, according to the newspaper.

Two tanks came within 25 yards of Coolidge, and a tank commander shouted at him “in perfect English, ‘Do you guys wanna give up?’” Coolidge recalled in a 2014 interview with the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media.

“I’m sorry, Mac, you’ve gotta come and get me,” Coolidge retorted.

On the fifth day of the standoff, Coolidge orchestrated an orderly retreat, enabling his men to rejoin the Third Battalion a few hundred yards away, the Times reported.

Coolidge was born Aug. 21, 1921, in Signal Mountain, outside Chattanooga, according to his biography on the Military Times website. He entered the Army in June 1942 and served in North Africa with the 36th Division in April 1943. He was awarded a Silver Star for leading his machine-gun section in a firefight in Italy in May 1944, the Times reported.

Coolidge saw plenty of action but was never wounded, the newspaper reported. After he was discharged, Coolidge returned home to work for his family’s printing firm..

According to the War Department’s citation for the Medal of Honor, Coolidge, “displaying great coolness and courage, directed and conducted an orderly withdrawal, being himself the last to leave the position. As a result of Technical Sergeant Coolidge’s heroic and superior leadership, the mission of this combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods.”

Coolidge will be buried April 16 at the Chattanooga National Military Cemetery with full military honors, the Times Free Press reported. He will be buried next to his wife, Frances Coolidge, who died in 2009 at 86.

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