During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with Technical Sgt. Charles H. Coolidge, whose leadership from Oct. 24-27, 1944, near Belmont-sur-Buttant, France, inspired his men to stall an advance by German forces.
“The bloodiest combat Charles Coolidge experienced was in 1943, after he went ashore at Salerno,” writes Peter Collier in Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. “Coolidge’s unit went up the boot of Italy and crossed the Rapido River to engage the Germans at Montecassino. There were surreal moments as well as violent ones: capturing sheep from the countryside and forcing them at bayonet point to cross enemy minefields. In all, the fighting was brutal and the American losses heavy, far worse than anything Coolidge would encounter later on.
“By mid-1944, after landing at Anzio and the capture of Rome, Coolidge, now a technical sergeant with a machine-gun platoon, was back in Naples, preparing with his unit to go into France. They landed at Cannes on Aug. 15, then chased the retreating Germans up the center of the country. Moving fast, they covered more than 500 miles in 60 days.
“On Oct. 24, Coolidge took his machine gunners to the crest of Hill 623 near Belmont-sur-Buttant and dug in.”
Coolidge’s Medal of Honor citation continues the story:
“Leading a section of heavy machineguns supported by 1 platoon of Company K, he took a position near Hill 623, east of Belmont sur Buttant, France, on 24 October 1944, with the mission of covering the right flank of the 3d Battalion and supporting its action.
“T/Sgt. Coolidge went forward with a sergeant of Company K to reconnoiter positions for coordinating the fires of the light and heavy machineguns. They ran into an enemy force in the woods estimated to be an infantry company. T/Sgt. Coolidge, attempting to bluff the Germans by a show of assurance and boldness called upon them to surrender, whereupon the enemy opened fire. With his carbine, T/Sgt. Coolidge wounded two of them.
“There being no officer present with the force, T/Sgt. Coolidge at once assumed command. Many of the men were replacements recently arrived; this was their first experience under fire. T/Sgt. Coolidge, unmindful of the enemy fire delivered at close range, walked along the position, calming and encouraging his men and directing their fire. The attack was thrown back.
“Through 25 and 26 October the enemy launched repeated attacks against the position of this combat group but each was repulsed due to T/Sgt. Coolidge’s able leadership.
“On 27 October, German infantry, supported by two tanks, made a determined attack on the position. The area was swept by enemy small-arms, machinegun, and tank fire. 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 four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods.”
Collier writes, “He and his men killed 26 and wounded 60, according to a later Associated Press report …
“When he was told that he was to receive the Medal of Honor, Coolidge knew what it was only because the famous Sergeant Alvin York, a recipient in World War I, was from a town about 100 miles from his hometown of Signal Mountain, Tennessee. The ceremony took place on June 18, 1945, at a bombed-out airfield near Dornstadt, Germany, where gaping craters had been repaired by American bulldozers.”
Like Sgt. York, Charles Coolidge is honored in the Tennessee Area of the Medal of Honor Grove.
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