CHARLES H. COOLIDGE - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

CHARLES H. COOLIDGE

Posted: Updated:

The bloodiest combat Charles Coolidge experienced was in 1943, after he went ashore at Salerno. 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 the 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 August 15, then chased the retreating Germans up the center of the country. Moving fast, they covered more than five hundred miles in sixty days.

On October 24, Coolidge took his machine gunners to the crest of Hill 623 near Belmont-sur-Buttant and dug in. As he and another sergeant were reconnoitering a heavily wooded area to the right of the hill to establish positions from which they could coordinate the guns' fire, they ran into a handful of enemy soldiers. Coolidge told the other man, who spoke German, to approach some of the men and demand their surrender, but the bluff didn't work. One German soldier raised his rifle, and Coolidge shot him, then shot another before running back to his men.

With no officer present, Coolidge assumed command of his unit, now augmented by some riflemen. Exposed to enemy guns, he walked up and down the position, encouraging the men and directing their fire as the Germans advanced. They were able to throw back the initial attack, and over the next three days fought desperately to hold their position.

On October 27, German infantry, supported by tanks, threatened to overrun Coolidge's unit. One of the tanks came so close that its commander, standing up in the open turret, was able to call out to Coolidge—in perfect English—to demand that he surrender. "Sorry, Mac, you'll have to come and get me," Coolidge yelled back. The German tank commander whirled the turret around, trying to shoot Coolidge as he took cover behind the trees. Coolidge grabbed a bazooka and aimed at the tank, but the weapon failed. Gathering

all the grenades he could find, he crawled forward, throwing them at the German infantrymen huddled around the tank. He and his men killed twenty-six and wounded sixty, according to a later Associated Press report, but because of the Germans' superior numbers and armor, he was finally forced to evacuate his men.

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 one hundred 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. The medal was presented by General Frederick Haislip.