CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Tribune News Service) — The Chattanooga park named for Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge could someday house a monument to him and others whose courage earned them the nation's top military honor.
Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Raines and representatives from what used to be the Medal of Honor Museum pitched the idea Wednesday to Hamilton County commissioners and will go before the Chattanooga City Council, as well.
Both those bodies' agreement would be needed to lease a two-acre site on the eastern side of Coolidge Park, across from the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, for what will be called the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center.
Plans call for a two-story building housing exhibits related to the Medal of Honor and its recipients, set in a plaza and including an amphitheater.
"We believe it completes Coolidge Park," said Jim Wade, executive director of the Medal of Honor Heritage Center.
Raines noted the very existence of the Medal of Honor has local roots: President Abraham Lincoln created the medal in 1862 to honor members of the Andrews Raiders. Union civilian spy James J. Andrews came up with a plan to steal a locomotive north of Atlanta and drive north through Chattanooga, destroying tracks and bridges behind him to block Confederate forces.
The Great Locomotive Chase, as it became known, ended in failure — the Confederates caught and executed eight of the raiders — but lives on in legend. Nineteen Medals of Honor were awarded as a result of that action, and six of those recipients are buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery. Another 33 medals came out of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga fighting in 1863, Wade said, including the only female recipient, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a civilian Civil War surgeon who cared for female prisoners.
Three soldiers from the area were awarded the blue ribbon and inverted gold star during World War II:
- Army Pfc. Desmond Doss, of Rising Fawn, Ga., the only conscientious objector ever to receive the medal, by rescuing wounded men amid enemy fire on Okinawa;
- Army Cpl. Paul Huff, of Cleveland, Tenn., who singlehandedly destroyed a machine gun nest in Italy and led his men to safety;
- Army Tech Sgt. Coolidge, who led men in fending off four days of German attacks on his French position and then withdrew his troops safely.
Raines said retired Gen. B.B. Bell will lead the capital campaign to raise money for the project — the amount was not discussed, and Wade said that goal will be announced later — and all the group is asking from the county and city is a 99-year lease at $1 a year for the site.
Commissioners, who will be asked to vote next week on the proposal, had few questions but seemed enthusiastic.
Commissioner Warren Mackey called it "a wonderful asset coming to Chattanooga."
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