EDITORIAL • And Then There Was Only One

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American history is largely defined by our wars and the heroes who emerge. 

The recent death of World War II Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge of Tennessee reduces our nation to only one living holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor from the Second World War.  He is the youngest of 11 children from a West Virginia dairy farm, Mr. Hershel “Woody” Williams, age 98. The day the U.S. Marines raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi over Iwo Jima, Mr. Williams was busy destroying seven Japanese pillboxes using only flamethrowers.

The death of Mr. Coolidge of Chattanooga is a wake-up call for our Nation to give “the greatest generation” the “final salute” through a State Funeral in Washington, DC for the last Medal of Honor holder from World War II.  Of the 16 million women and men who wore the uniform of our Armed Forces in the Second World War, only about 300,000 veterans remain.   But there are 35 million American families who lay claim to a parent, grandparent, or other family members who defeated Fascism, Imperialism, and Nazism. 

The American torch of heroism is passed from generation to generation.  Sgt. Alvin York, one of the most decorated American soldiers from World War I, visited the grammar school class of Charles Coolidge, who later fought for 22 consecutive months in Europe in WWII. 

In the last week of October 1944, Sergeant Coolidge and 27 outnumbered soldiers in his rifle and machine-gun section faced annihilation by German troops with tanks during a major battle in mountains of eastern France, near the German border.

At one point, two German tanks pulled up 25 yards from Coolidge, opened the hatch and in perfect English asked him to surrender his men. Mr. Coolidge replied:  “I’m sorry, Mac, you will have to come get me.”  The lead tank fired their cannon five times at him as he ducked and dodged and came out alive.   On day five of the standoff, Sergeant Coolidge pulled off an orderly retreat without getting a man captured.  Sergeant Coolidge received the Medal of Honor on June 18, 1945, in a ceremony near Dornstadt, Germany.

The Pacific War where Williams fought was different in the American mind than the war in Europe. Most American families immigrated from Europe and they possessed an understanding of the geography and  names of cities and places.  When the Atomic bomb “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, the American public called it HEE-roe-sheema.    The only place in Japan anybody knew was Tokyo. 

Honoring the last Medal of Honor holder from World War II is as American as country ham, redeye gravy, and grits.  Under American law only one person can designate such a funeral, the President of the United States Joe Biden.  

No legislation is required.  

Every 40 or 50 years America has a non-Presidential State Funeral.  In 1921  President Warren Harding held a State Funderal for the unknown soldier from World War I.  In 1948 President Truman did so for General John “Black Jack” Pershing and in 1962 John F. Kennedy signed the designation for General Douglas MacArthur.  He died in 1964. 

State Funeral for World War II Veterans is a unique national non-profit that has the following as its sole mission.  “To convince the President of the United States to designate a State Funeral in Washington, DC for the last Medal of Honor holder from World War II, as a final salute to the 16 million women and men of the greatest generation who served in our armed forces from 1941 to 1945.”  

The idea was originated by a 10-year-old public school student from Texas, Rabel McNutt who was the Goddaughter of a World War II Medal of Honor holder.    

Our nation has had many state funerals for Generals from Eisenhower to Pershing, from Grant to MacArthur, but never one for an enlisted man.  Hershel “Woody” Williams was a Corporal, an enlisted man.   No enlisted man has ever been lying in state under the dome of our nation’s Capital. 

Please join us by calling or writing to the President at the White House to help us convince him to use his sole authority to hold a State Funeral for Hershel “Woody” Williams.  

In his final years, the family of Charles Coolidge, transformed the large living room of his son’s home into his hospital room.  From his bed he could look out on a beautiful combination of the Tennessee River below and the lovely mountains of the Cumberland Plateau.  He was a citizen soldier of World War II, a noncommissioned officer who led through example rather than the virtue of rank.  

Technical Sergeant Coolidge was part of a special breed of men and women who did great things for American and the world.   His generation deserves a National salute in the form of a State Funeral for their final Medal of Honor recipient.  Mr. Coolidge would have wanted it no other way. 

John Galer is the State Chairman of State Funeral for World War II Veterans.  Lee William (Bill) McNutt  is the Co-Founder of State Funeral for World War II Veterans. www.worldwar2salute.org

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