The last survivor. So I just called 98-year-old Charles H. Coolidge. He was at his home near where he was born in Tennessee. He was lying in bed, ill with multiple sclerosis, but said he was doing okay, considering. He is the only surviving Army soldier to have received the Medal of Honor during the Second World War – the only surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the European theater of the war. Every other man has gone. Just one other living American, a marine from the Pacific, received the MOH in WWII.
According to one of his sons, Coolidge is an amazingly positive man, always looking on the bright side of life. He certainly saw the worst in combat.
Coolidge served as a T Patcher, part of the legendary Texas National Guard unit, the 36th Infantry Division. The division received 12 Presidential Unit Citations and served for over 400 days in Europe, being the first US division to invade the mainland of Italy. He saw action from Salerno in September 1943 to the end of the war in Germany – some of the worst, most brutal combat suffered by Americans in any war. Italy, in particular, was a bloodbath for the Texans. There were almost 20,000 casualties in his division. Over 3000 men were killed.
On October 24, 1944, Coolidge was a technical sergeant in charge of group of machine-gunners and rifleman of M Company who were to hold a vital hilltop position in France near the German border. Over four days, Coolidge and his men held off vicious enemy attacks and on October 27 Coolidge repelled two German tanks using just grenades; one tank unsuccessfully fired 5 separate rounds at Coolidge who somehow survived and then led his men to safety. For his actions above and beyond the call of duty during the battle, Coolidge was presented the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Wade H. Haislip on 18 June 1945 during a ceremony at an airfield near Dornstadt, Germany.
It has been claimed that Coolidge perhaps saw more front-line fighting than any other US soldier in the war in Europe. The closest he came to being wounded was a piece of shrapnel hitting his boot. He married his wartime sweetheart 86 days after coming home – and finding himself a superstar. A famous photo shows WWI MOH hero, Sergeant Alvin York, driving a WWII jeep holding Coolidge on a celebratory drive through Chattanooga on his homecoming.
When I spoke to him today, he acknowledged his fellow T Patchers and when asked how long he spent in combat, risking his life to liberate Europe, he exclaimed: “A long time!”