“Today we celebrate the founding and the freedom of our wonderful country,” senior pastor Brent Coley said. “We also come together to thank the Lord for his protection on our land for the past 238 years. Today we desire to first and foremost, more than anything else, to make much of Jesus. “We also this morning desire to make much of America’s founding and America’s freedom, and certainly those who fought so that we can enjoy that today.”
Six World War II veterans were honored, including Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge of Signal Mountain.
“Some of the visitors we have in our midst this morning are rare finds and really national treasures,” Coley said.
The experience and service of the World War II veterans present represented a variety of experiences.
Lloyd Brewster served two years and eight months in Iowa Jima as a Marine.
“He was one of only 10 survivors out of his entire battalion [of 1,000] at Iowa Jima,” Coley said.
Harvey Price served in the Army for one year and eight months in Japan. Carl Zurcher served around the world during his 21 years of military service. He served in the Army and Air Force. Joseph Blackburn served in the U.S. Navy and Army being stationed around the world in his 34 years of service. Laurel McFadden served for four years.
“There are not many of this generation left. My grandfather served in World War II and lived through the Great Depression. He passed away 17 months ago, and how I wish he was here,” Coley said.
Coley introduced Coolidge to those present as he was helped onto the stage via a ramp for his wheelchair. Coolidge, through Coley, declined the opportunity to speak, saying his voice was weak, but welcomed the opportunity to meet people after the service.
“The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor. It’s awarded for personal acts of valor far above and beyond the call of duty,” Coley said. “Almost half of the recipients of the Medal of Honor receive it after death.”
There are only 78 Medal of Honor recipients still living. Of these, only seven served in World War II.
Coolidge’s service to his country has been encapsulated in an interview he did for The Discovery Channel. The interview was played during Sunday’s service of honor.
Coolidge was in charge of a group of soldiers whose mission was to secure a hill in France near the German border. Four days of fighting followed. On the final day, when an enemy tank was within visual range, Coolidge led his men to throw grenades at the tanks.
“Now, I’m only about 25 yards from him [the lead tank],” Coolidge said.
The tank fired at him six times, but each time he avoided being hit.
He did not surrender.
“The Associated Press claimed that we had killed 26 Germans,” Coolidge said. “My first concern was my men. I didn’t care what happened to me, but I wanted to protect them in every circumstance.”
Coley encouraged those present not to take for granted the veterans who are still alive to share their experiences. He encouraged parents to have their children learn from these old soldiers.
Each veteran was given a book containing the text of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Those who had lived through the Great Depression were honored with another book of historic documents. The veterans of WWII were further honored with the gift of a study Bible.
“Two things that every American ought to have — a preserved copy of the Word of God and a Constitution,” Coley said.
The service also honored all of those present who had served in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines.