REGION — As D-Day approaches on June 6, the 77th anniversary of the Allies landing on the beaches of France, we take a moment to recognize the bravery and valor of one who fought in WWII.

World War II veteran Wilfred “Willie” Coolidge’s courageous and brave actions in battle were one of the many reasons he exemplified what it meant to belong to the generation considered “the greatest.”

In November of 2010, with his 86th birthday having just passed, Coolidge, along with four others were recognized by The Consul General of France, Christophe Guilhou, for their heroic actions in World War II. Guilhou gave a speech thanking each of the men. Along with the speech were page-long accounts of their time in the service.

The speech read: “If France is able to enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom today, it is thanks to the many Americans who took part in World War II. France has never forgotten that it was them who helped liberate our country from Nazi occupation. Moreover, younger generations must realize that it is due to the sacrifices made by these men that we are able to live in a free world. Theirs is a dying generation, and it is imperative that we honor them for their courage while we still can. Before going any further let me give you some background on the Legion of Honor,”

“Since its institution in 1802 by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the Legion of Honor is only awarded in cases of exemplary military and civilian services rendered to France. It is the highest honor that can be awarded in France, and in this case it was awarded by decree of France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy. What follows is an account of the actions of M. Joseph BERGIN, M. William COFRIN, M. Wilfred COOLIDGE, M. Howard HANSON and M. Russell MOULAISON in France during World War II.”

Coolidge enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 18 and was chosen to participate in radio school in Boston. According to the account, on April 27, 1943, he was assigned to Seventh Navy Beach Battalion. With the battalion, Coolidge had to secure the beachfronts “that would serve as the deployment zone for the Allied forces during the infamous D-Day landings,” in June 1944. Some of Coolidge’s tasks were developing communications between the ships and those on shore, helping with repairs, directing landing crafts to the shore, disposing of obstacles, establishing medical posts and aiding wounded soldiers.

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He was ordered to retreat the morning of D-Day as he was headed toward Omaha Beach because of the ongoing chaos at the landing zones. However, Coolidge came back a day later accompanied by four radio men.  Coolidge would stay in the general area for three weeks and dealt with many attacks from the Nazis, including some with the use of gas, according to the account. After the beaches were cleared and “deemed safe,” some servicemen returned to the United States, but Coolidge and others headed to Japan to continue the fight.

Coolidge was awarded for his actions in war, receiving a World War II Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon with one Service Star, the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Unit Badge for the “important role he played during the landings in Normandy.”

According to his obituary, one of Coolidge’s more memorable moments while serving his country came while he was preparing for the next phase of the war in San Diego. While there, Coolidge and other service members had the opportunity to watch the Rose Bowl from the sidelines.

Coolidge came from a long line of veterans with his grandfather, Roscoe, being a Civil War veteran and his father, Arthur, a World War I veteran who lost a lung to mustard gas. Arthur ended up receiving a Silver Star, the third highest military decoration for valor.

While Willie’s passing reminds us that of his generations dwindling population, it also shows that by speaking on the deeds done by him and many others may be the best way to keep their memory alive.

Editor’s Note: Willie Coolidge is related to this writer (Samuel Wheeler).

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Samuel Wheeler — 207-824-2444

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