Procession Honors the Passing of One of the Nation’s Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipients Charles H. Coolidge

By Joe Bailey, Features Editor—

Following his passing at the age of 99, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and Chattanooga native Charles H. Coolidge was buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery on Friday, April 16 after a procession transported his casket down the route from his funeral service.

Police officers, firefighters and military personnel stood in full regalia, ready and waiting for the service at First Presbytarian Church of Chattanooga on McCallie Avenue to come to a close. At around noon, the procession began. A fleet of police cruisers and motorcycles escorted the hearse just a few blocks down to Holtzclaw Avenue. Near the entrance to the cemetery, fire trucks, using their ladders to support a giant American flag, greeted the slow-moving motorcade.   

Flags were everywhere, from the one held up by the truck ladders, to those brandished by the dozens of onlookers lining the streets, to the one at the crest of the hill in the cemetery, which flew at half staff that day. 

Charles H. Coolidge is remembered today in part for his courage on the battlefield during his service in the 35th division of the 141st infantry regiment of the U.S. Army in the Second World War’s European theater. His passing leaves only one living Medal of Honor recipient from WWII, but Coolidge’s legacy goes far beyond his decorations. His influence is woven into the fabric of the city of Chattanooga, in ways both large and small. Take Coolidge Park, or the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center — two easily identifiable local institutions with his namesake. 

For smaller examples of the mark he left, one need only look to Chattanoogans themselves. Disparate groups gathered at the side of the road to honor the single figure who had influenced their lives. Military veterans and those currently serving stood side-by-side with students from the McCallie School, who until then had only known the name Charles H. Coolidge in an impersonal, historical context. 

More intimate connections also characterized much of his impact. For chattanoogan and Coolidge family acquaintance Pamela Glaser, who stood watch with her dog on McCallie Avenue in patriotic colors, experiences with WWII veterans have allowed for her full appreciation of the special brand of military discipline and respect on display at the procession. Such a show of reverence is not the sort of thing she and others like her get to participate in all too often these days. 

“We just don’t tend to do that sort of remembrance and special ceremonies the way we should,” Glaser said. 

One thing that struck her was how vividly veterans were able to remember their time serving and the people with whom they served. Even though she could have stayed in bed, she said she felt compelled to attend out of respect.

“I wanted to sleep in this morning, but then I thought, ‘No, a soldier has to get out of bed. We have to go,’” Glaser said. 

Chattanooga couple Jeff and Candy Boutwell, who stood near Glaser on the sidewalk, have had several run-ins with Mr. Coolidge over the years, and said that he always showed them kindness and respect. Jeff was once hired by the Coolidge family to work on renovations to their home, and said that he had a brief conversation with the man himself, who was sick at the time. 

Candy said they took this opportunity to acknowledge Coolidge’s accomplishments and to repay the respect he had shown them. 

“This is once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, especially for someone with the Medal of Honor,” Candy said. 

The main ceremonies were closed to the general public, but the day’s reverence reached far beyond those venues. 

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