Apr. 8—For more than 14 months during the Nazi invasion, Charles H. Coolidge Sr. served in Europe, starting with a treacherous boat ride from North Africa to Italy.
After months of firefights, the technical sergeant led a section of heavy machine guns with a platoon of fewer than 30 men to take a position near Hill 623 east of Belmont sur Buttant, France, a crucial position near the German border.
It was Oct. 24, 1944, and 23-year-old Coolidge was by far the most seasoned and experienced soldier in the group. By that time, he had seen months of action while most of the men he was in charge of were fresh-faced and green. He and his unit were setting up two machine guns when they heard the Germans coming.
Coolidge looked to his friend, George Ferguson, from the Bronx, who spoke German.
"George, call to them and ask them if they want to give up," Coolidge said.
The Germans weren't more than 40 feet away when one of them pointed his rifle at Ferguson.
That's when Coolidge raised his rifle and shot, hitting the German who was pointing his rifle at Ferguson.
A firefight led to Ferguson being hit in the left arm, and the battle began.
For four days, with little ammunition, Coolidge and his men survived six counterattacks from the Germans, who were trying to make it up the hill. On the fourth morning, Oct. 27, the Germans brought up two tanks for the seventh counterattack.
"The situation was desperate," Staff Sgt. Clarence B. Hawkins, a leader of a squad of riflemen, later said. "Sgt. Coolidge saw there was at least a company of Germans and something had to be done. He stepped in front of us and walked right at the Germans, yelling to them to surrender. You'd think he had an Army behind him."
Coolidge had already told his men that there was a possibility the Germans would bring a tank through a bank barely wide enough to accommodate one. That morning, as the unit heard the two tanks rumbling up the hill, Coolidge and his men readied their defense.
When the first tank got about 50 feet away from Coolidge, who remained at the front of the unit, a turret of the tank opened up and, in perfect English, the German troops' leader asked, "Do you guys want to give up?"
Coolidge looked him square in the face and said, "I'm sorry, Mac. You've got to come and get me."
With no other reason to keep the conversation going, the German closed the turret and fired an 85 mm gun at Coolidge five times at point-blank range. Coolidge was able to dodge every shot, ducking between and behind trees.
At one point, the shrapnel from a shot cut the leather on the top of his boot, but it didn't break the skin.
Coolidge got hold of a bazooka to return fire, but as Charles Coolidge Jr. explained, the battery in the ignition system was taken out so his father couldn't get it to work. Thankfully, the seasoned soldier always carried "a case of grenades" with him during battle.
Coolidge pitched as many grenades as he could to hold off the Germans from taking the hill. As his men retreated safely, Coolidge made sure he was the last one on the hill.
"My dad was in combat for 14 months at that point," Charles Coolidge Jr. said. "He knew how they played. He took them out."
From later reports as the Allies inched closer to victory, it was reported that Coolidge and his men killed 26 Germans and injured up to 60 others.
Ferguson survived the attack, and he and Coolidge stayed in touch after the war.