Segment 9

Annotation

Charles Coolidge starts this segment in the middle of conversation as the camera started recording again. [Annotators note: Much of the conversation is about his family and his sister passing away] The interview cuts to the start of his Medal of Honor action story. Coolidge recalls that the morning they left for the Vosges Mountains was like any regular day. He was attached that day to Company K and they started up the mountain and would occasionally reach elevated areas that they would have to navigate but eventually made it to the top of the mountain. When they made it to the top of the mountain there was a path coming to them and drops off on his left side at a sharp drop. There was a path there wide enough for a tank to come down. Coolidge only had two heavy machine guns with him. He and his Sergeant after they got to that point decided to do a little reconnaissance to figure out where to set up the two machine guns. They go over to their right to recon and find a spot. About that time they see German soldiers coming toward them. The Sergeant spoke good German so Coolidge ask him to call out to the Germans and ask them if they wanted to give up. So the Sergeant starts talking to them and Coolidge notices there is another German with a rifle near a tree so he keeps his eye on him. The Sergeant [Annotators note: He calls him George] and one of the first Germans they spotted are talking in German. As they keep talking Coolidge does not know what they are saying but notices the rifleman behind the tree pointing his rifle at George so Coolidge shoots him. When he did that all the Germans started firing. George got hit in the left arm as the Germans started to fire. Coolidge got George out of there where the Germans could not fire at them on high ground and sent him back to the aid station and George survived the war. Coolidge recalled the unit stayed on Hill 623 for five days. Each day the German would fire on them and start an attack and they would be repulsed. Coolidge had been asking for some help because with his men and K Company there were only twenty seven men left. They lost George and had a BAR [Annotators note: Browning Automatic Rifle] man get killed taking them down to twenty five men. Previously on the first day the first battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment had moved across in front of Coolidge and his battalion. They had gone into the valley through it and then onto the next mountain. When they did that the Germans let them make the move and then surrounded them. This battalion soon became known as the Lost Battalion. Coolidge assumes the Germans wanted to capture them and figured that Coolidge and his battalion were the nearest element to the Lost Battalion and so instead of attacking the Lost Battalion then they could keep others from getting to them. That worked for several days but on the third day Coolidge complained to his battalion that he wanted some help to go up but they decided to just attack at night instead and got down below where Coolidge and his men were and you could hear them digging and making noise. After an hour or two the Americans pulled out of the area and Coolidge found out later that they went back to where they started. Coolidge recalled tapping into the line of Charlie Company talking to Able Company and listening to their conversation. They began to get alarmed about what was going on and found out about this battalion becoming a lost battalion. He recalled what they did not know at the time was that they were not sending any more troops in to try and attack again but instead sent the 442 [Annotators note: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team] that was an all Japanese American unit that came up the group that the first one traveled. Coolidge knew this because they followed the same wire that he had tapped into. He recalled on the 5th day that the Germans decided to bring tanks in on the path that was wide enough for tanks. They came up the valley and up the mountain right to where Coolidge has a machinegun set up some six feet on that flank and the other machine gun across the other side. The machine gunner is a fairly new guy to the outfit and the man in the hole with him is a medic. Coolidge has a medic with him too but his was with M Company and not a rifle company medic like the one in the hole. On that fifth day the Germans tried to force them off the hill and as the battle began to start. Coolidge had gone up to check on the machinegun on the right and was about halfway back when he saw a German tank coming and saw the turret raise suddenly and the tank commander stood up and spoke perfect English to Coolidge asking if the Americans wanted to give up. Coolidge stood up and told the German that he would have to come get him. [Annotators note: he repeats the story because there is a beeping in the background that interrupts him initially] They took the turret of the tank and turned it in Coolidge's direction and fired five times point blank at him. Each time they fired Coolidge watched the direction they turned the turret and he would go the opposite way and try to get the tank to shoot and hit a tree firing over his men and not through them. Coolidge came to his men and told them that they were going to let the Germans have the hill and get out of there. He had a BAR man get killed and a gunner and a medic that were eight feet from the tank that he could not get to and had to leave behind. After the war one of them wrote him to tell him that the Germans treated them pretty well except if they drew shell fire they would leave them outside exposed. Coolidge recalls that he had a bazooka but it did not have batteries in it so it would not work. He also recalled that the German infantry came up the draw on all five attacks so he crawled up and would pull the pin and throw grenades at them. When the tanks came up he threw twenty grenades or more at the tank because the infantry would cling to the tanks for cover and security. During all of this action he was concerned with getting two machine guns out and all of his men out. Which he got one machine gun out but had to leave the other behind with the gunner and medic in the hole with it that was not his medic. In the battle they did not lose anybody except for the two that were captured because they could practically touch the tank. Coolidge recalled that the weather during those five days on that hill that the weather was rainy but not cold in October weather. Coolidge notes that after you have been outside in the weather for so long it gets to where it does not bother you anymore. In fact he did not even carry a raincoat anymore. If felt if it rained then it rained and you just learned to live with it. He did always carry a blanket doubled up and folded over the back of his web belt which helped his men always recognize him in the field.[Annotators note: There is a brief interruption by a secretary and the interview picks back up with talking about his Medal of Honor]Coolidge found out in November of 1944 that he was put in for the Medal of Honor. He knew Alvin York and that he had the Medal of Honor but it did not make an impression on him much at the time. Coolidge explains that many of the soldiers at the time did not think much about getting medals and more about survival and trying to get home. He was doing his best to get home. Coolidge after getting off of Hill 623 made his way into Germany. He mentions in December going to Lemberg. That is where they had the house that half of the kitchen was blown away. They were eating Christmas dinner but it was not Christmas. Someone came in and told everyone to grab their gear and that they would be moving over one hundred miles away where the 100th Division was in full retreat [Annotators note: Coolidge could not recall if it was the 100th Division for certain that was in retreat. Coolidge notes that M Company was different from a rifle company. A rifle company was riding to the front in two and a half ton trucks. Coolidge says his men rode six to a squad in Jeeps. They arrived in Lemberg and came through town to the last house and enter the woods and meet in a house. The officers talk and decide what the plan is going to be. Coolidge did not have a platoon leader which he felt was a good thing because he liked his choices better than theirs. They set up their guns which they have either two or four but Coolidge could not recall. They set up their positions and he and Pete [Annotators note: Unsure on last name but it sounds like Beano or Beeno] came back toward the house when they ran across some foxholes. They decide to sleep in the one by the road. They got in there and slept and were outside the lines. Daylight came and Coolidge was an early riser. He got up and checked out his guns. The rear echelon had stopped in the house at the end of town. Unbeknownst to Coolidge at the time the house next to it was full of Germans and that was the end of their lines. They stayed there several days before being relieved and taken off the front. He did not think there was even a fire fight the whole time that they were there. Coolidge recalled one night that he did not bother with Pete and went and got 4 jeep loads of rations and brought them back to the front and gave them out. Coolidge found a ride back to the front with the rations in a jeep. Before the jeep driver left Coolidge and Pete and two medics loaded up a wounded man that had been hit with shrapnel around the eye in his position up on the front. He felt all they needed then was another replacement and just carry on.

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