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Celebrating Men of Courage, Part 2

with Col. Jim Coy | May 27, 2008

Men and women throughout the years have risked their lives for freedom. Today, Col. Jim Coy, now retired from the military, tells Dennis Rainey about some of the heroic deeds performed by recipients of the prestigious Medal of Honor.

Men and women throughout the years have risked their lives for freedom. Today, Col. Jim Coy, now retired from the military, tells Dennis Rainey about some of the heroic deeds performed by recipients of the prestigious Medal of Honor.

Celebrating Men of Courage, Part 2

With Col. Jim Coy
|
May 27, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: The Congressional Medal of Honor has been awarded to more than 3,400 Americans over the last 143 years.  It is America's highest military honor, and today there are fewer than 150 men who remain living who can wear this medal – men like Charles Coolidge.

Jim: He was leading a group of soldiers who were mostly replacements, and they came under fire from a German armored unit and infantry, and as the battle ensued, the Germans came up on this small number of Americans and a tank commander began to fire point-blank range at Charles Coolidge with this tank cannon.  Over the course of time, Charles was running between these soldiers, who were replacements, and pulled the enemy under fire, encouraging these men to go ahead, continue firing and keep firing. 

Bob: We honor the bravery of men like Charles Coolidge with the Medal of Honor.  For Charles himself, there is another, more profound bravery, a deeper kind of valor that was shown thousands of years earlier on a different hillside.

Jim: The interesting part about it, as Charles will talk, he'll say, you know, he'll speak about the action on a hill in France, and he received the Medal of Honor, but he will – almost every time, he'll run a parallel course, and he'll say I just want you to know, though, that there was another battle that was fought and won, and it was on the hill in Calvary, which is much more important than Hill 623 in Southern France where I was awarded the Medal of Honor – so a deep man of faith.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 27th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we'll hear the stories of men who fought and who were willing to die to protect our freedom, men who won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  You know, I have heard over the years, people refer to you as someone who inspires courage in others by challenging couples to honor their marriage commitment, by encouraging parents to hang in there and to persevere as they raise their children, their sons and their daughters.

In fact, I remember a story you told on FamilyLife Today about being at a junior high dance and having to move in and get these kids who were dancings inappropriately to break it up, and I remember you saying it took some courage, and it surprised you that it took courage to confront these junior high kids about what they were doing, but I remember my wife hearing that story, and it gave her courage to confront some kids that she was watching who were acting inappropriately.  And I do think that we inspire courage in others when we do things that they see as courageous things, don't you think?

Dennis: We do, and we need to hear about courageous people because these are days when we need to be courageous.  We don't need to be passive.  I spoke yesterday about a volume in my library that is one of my most prized books – the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and it's their stories.  And, Bob, the book is about – it's close to three, four inches thick.

Bob: Well, there are hundreds of stories in the book.

Dennis: Oh, it goes all the way back to the Civil War, and I read those stories sometimes just to be encouraged – en-couraged – to be given courage, because courage does fuel our spirits to dare mighty things.  Life has a way of knocking the props out from under us, and I'm excited that yesterday and today we've had a chance to talk to Colonel Jim Coy, who has written a book called "Valor, A Gathering of Eagles," and, Jim, I want to welcome you back to FamilyLife Today, and I want to thank you, too, for putting this book together, because this gives me courage. 

Jim: Oh, absolutely.  I'm just reminded, as you talk about courage, a number of the men will talk about courage in the book, and many of them will talk about, you know, there are two types of courage.  There is a physical courage and a moral courage, and as these men reflect on that, having demonstrated physical courage, they will often say it's more difficult to have moral courage than it is to have physical courage.  And the men who say that, all of them seem to have both.  They exhibited physical courage, but they also have tremendous moral courage.

Dennis: Well, Colonel Coy has served in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, two years as the national president of the Special Operations Medical Association – so that means, Bob, if you need an operation or two, we can take care of that right on the spot.

Bob: If something happens here in the studio, you can probably – you've got a little black bag you carry with you?

Jim: I could say you're real sick.

Dennis: But this book is about 117 Medal of Honor recipients, but specifically you have 11 – 11 who give advice around their spiritual values, their own personal faith, and one of the stories that Bob and I ran across, we wanted to hear you tell, was Henry Irwin, who was a U.S. Army pilot.

Jim: Yes, in fact, let me – I'll step back.  He wasn't the pilot of the aircraft, he was one of the crew members, but he does make it all the way to the cockpit, and I'll explain the story.  Red Irwin – "Red" because he had red hair – he's now passed away – lived in Alabama, was severely injured in the incident that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for, and what happened was they were marking positions as they flew over the Japanese, they were the lead aircraft, and he was to push through a tube a white phosphorous grenade, which would mark the area for the other aircraft that were following to bomb, and they hit a wind current as he slid that into the tube, and it started to exit the aircraft but was blown back into the aircraft.  And white phosphorous will burn to the point that it will burn through metal. 

So it's filling the plane full of smoke, it's burning through metal, and he worked, as a young man, in a foundry, so he knew what burns were in intense heat, and this heat is like no other heat.  I can't remember how many hundred degrees it burns at, but it's phenomenally hot, and he picked up this white phosphorous shell, basically, and pulled it to his chest and started to walk toward the front of the aircraft, and the crew members that were around said they could hear the skin just burning, boiling off of him, and one of the men, I remember saying, "I don't think I could have done that myself."

But it would burn through the aircraft where it would fill the aircraft with smoke.  In fact, the aircraft began to lose altitude from all the smoke.  The pilot and the copilot could not see.  As Henry Irwin, "Red" Irwin, tells the story, he said, "As I started to walk toward the front, there was an angel beside me, and that angel just started to say to me, 'Go, go, go,' over and over, and I just kept going to the front of the aircraft."  And the commander of the aircraft relates the story like this – he said, "I turned around, and Henry was there, and he was on fire and burning up, and he said, 'Excuse me, sir, could you open your window so I could throw this out the window?'"

Dennis: The front window of the aircraft?

Jim: The front window of the aircraft.  The pilot's window, and Henry throws it out of the plane, and then he collapses, and they returned – they immediately turned back and flew to their base, and the act was such an act of heroism that it was the fastest-recorded paperwork transition for the Medal of Honor that's ever occurred.  I think the Medal of Honor was awarded to him within something like two days.  They did not expect him to live, and what they wanted him to know was that he received the Medal of Honor before he died.  And he was blinded by that.  He didn't live blinded. 

He came back – his forearm and chest, I think, I don't know how many hundred plastic surgeries he had over the course of years – came back to Alabama, continued to serve his nation, worked with the VA, and raised a family and stayed true and married to his wife.  In fact, he had met his wife, I think, when I heard this story from her, as she tells it, in church, and she said she knew he would be a good man to marry, because she had met him in church so – a phenomenal story.

Bob: What's amazing is how many of these guys did actually survive – I mean – I think of guys throwing themselves on grenades or guys who pick up phosphorous grenades – how anyone survives anything like that.

Jim: It's an amazing thing, you know, one, given occasion, it seems like somebody will die of something that they should have, in fact, survived, and someone else will survive something that you would think is unsurvivable.  It's unexplainable.  I know that there are people who will talk about the POW experience, especially the Bataan Death March, some of the survivors I've talked to, and they'll say, "I survived because I had hope." 

There were men who were perfectly healthy who died because they gave up hope, but there were men who survived who should have died, but they had hope, and they survived.  I don't know whether that is hope and faith and God's divine providence and God's plan to use these other people. 

Many of the people in the book, as they speak, will talk about the fact that God had another plan or had a plan to continue to use them for their lives.  In fact, many of the fellows who write their story and who occur in that video, "Valor," will talk about God had a plan for my life, and the plan for my life was for me to be awarded the Medal of Honor so I, in fact, can tell other people about why I have a faith in God, and it turns the hearts of other people to God.

Dennis: You write about a U.S. Army man – Rudy Hernandez – who served in Korea and carried a unique business card.

Jim: Yes, Rudy will carry a card – in fact, two or three of the recipients, on the back of my card, my business card, I have four or five Scriptures.  It just lets them know right up front that I intend to live by those verses, and that I have a faith, and Rudy Hernandez has the Gospel – "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," and he tells the story in the book – in fact, his story is titled, "I Am Not Ashamed."

Dennis: And on the front of the business card is the Medal of Honor, right?

Jim: That's correct, it is – the icon.  What we might now call the icon or the image of the Medal of Honor that he received and then his name, address, phone number, but when you turn the card over, then you'll see the Scripture.

Bob: What does the medal look like?  I don't know that I've ever seen it.

Jim: On the cover of the book – in fact, there are three variations of the medal, and it has changed.  They are all a star, a gold-appearing star.  They have a blue ribbon – it's a sky-blue ribbon, and then there are 13 stars on a disk, and that disk, I think, has eight edges on it, and then it hangs down so the one for the Air Force has the Statue of Liberty's head on it; the Navy has a little different one – it hangs from an anchor; and the Army one has an eagle above it.

Bob: We have gone ahead and put these pictures on our website at FamilyLife.com.  We've got the cover of the book on our website at FamilyLife.com.  So if somebody wants to see what the medal of honor looks like, this would be something fun to take your kids and show them on the Web.  You can just go to our website and give them a visual of the Medal of Honor, what it looks like.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: One of the recipients is a guy who was a neighbor of Desmond Doss, who we talked about yesterday – Charles Coolidge, who served in World War II, right?

Jim: That's correct, yes.  Charles Coolidge received the Medal of Honor in World War II in the European Theater, while Desmond received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Okinawa.  Charles – interesting story – the division that he was with, he was on the front lines longer and in sustained combat – day-to-day, every day in combat.  He holds – his unit holds one of the records from World War II as the longest period of time in combat in World War II – combat every day, day after day after day, week after week after week.

Dennis: Do you recall how long that was?

Jim: You know, it says in the book how many days that was.  I do not remember, but in the story that Charles will talk about, he just reflects on the fact that all that time he survived, never injured, never wounded, and he attributes it to the fact that his parents were godly parents, and they were always praying for him.  Now, many of these other men were also godly and had godly parents praying for them, and they were, in fact, wounded – wounded severely.  So always-always and never-nevers don't work, and it is not a good luck charm to have people praying for you, but it's better to have people praying than not.

Dennis: And what did he do to win the Medal of Honor?

Jim: He was leading a group of soldiers who were mostly replacements, and they came under fire from an armored unit – German armored unit and infantry.  And as the battle ensued, the Germans came up on this small number of Americans, and a tank commander sticks his head up out of the tank and, as Charles Coolidge can only do in his Tennessee accent, said, "This guy got up and said, 'Do you want to surrender?'  And he spoke better English than I did," and Charles said, "I pointed to my chest and said, 'Buddy, you're going to have to come over me.  You're going to have to take me," and the commander went back down and began to fire point-blank range at Charles Coolidge with this tank cannon and machine-gun fire. 

Over the course of time, Charles counter-attacked himself, took a bazooka, and went up far forward and was trying to shoot.  His bazooka failed; went back and got grenades and continued to basically repel the attack.  But he was running between these soldiers, who were replacements, in full view of the enemy, under fire, encouraging these men to go ahead, continue firing, keep firing. 

And the interesting part about it, as Charles will talk, he'll say, you know, he'll speak about the action on a hill in France.  He received the Medal of Honor, but he'll almost every time, he'll run a parallel course, and he'll say, "I just want you to know, though, that there was another battle that was fought and won, and it was on the hill in Calvary, which is much more important than Hill 623 in Southern France where I was awarded the Medal of Honor" – so a deep man of faith.

Dennis: As I've read these stories, I've often thought about the warriors, the soldiers, who died in combat, who did even greater heroic acts than these listed here that no one knows anything about.

Jim: Absolutely.

Dennis: There is a passage in Hebrews that talks about the men and women of faith, and it kind of alludes to some of these people.  It refers to them as men of whom the world was not worthy – warriors for Christ.  Jim, you fought your own battle on behalf of Christ, and it took cancer to get your attention, as a man.  Take us back to that diagnosis and share with our listeners how He got your attention for you to become the man you've turned out to be.

Jim: Qhen I speak to groups across the nation, I'll often say, "You know, I have had five biopsies, four major surgeries, two months of radiation therapy over a 10-year period to make me this ugly.  Now, what's your excuse?"

Dennis: Bob and I both have a face for radio.

Jim: And when I was, really, a pretty young man, I had a sore that developed on my tongue, and that sore, because of my age, everybody thought would not be anything significant.  But we had a biopsy, and it was malignant, and they did a wedge reception – took out part of my tongue and a few years later, I developed this second sore in my throat and had to do the surgery, couldn't get all of the lesion, and asked if I would be willing to undergo a surgery that would be deforming to my face. 

In fact, I had a young boy the other day ask me about it, and I always say, "Yes, that's a knife fight."  And it was, in essence, and he said, "Well, you really look cool."  And, anyway, I have a significant deformity on my face.  The last surgery that I had was over 10 hours – a long surgery to remove part of my jaw, but that surgery was in 1989.  So it's been a significant period of time.  So now I'm considered cured, and I was not following after God, and He just sustained my – obtained my attention by that.

Dennis: Do you remember the moment when you finally said, "I yield; I surrender."  You waved the white flag? 

Jim: I do.

Dennis: That's hard for a military guy to do, you know.

Jim: I do remember, because it was a real peace.  Where, before, during this course of time, I thought, "Why me?"  And I remember the biopsy had, for the second time, it came back on my wife's birthday, and we had not been married that long, really.  I think only about six months, and I thought, "Oh, no, I'm newly married.  I'm going to have to go through this and endure this and what have I gotten myself into and her into?" 

But over the course of time, and then as the last episode, and that went over the course of six months for all that treatment, probably, or three or four months – I remember coming out of the surgery and going through all of the difficulties and the pain and the deformity and living with that when I was just able to say, you know, "Who better than me to experience this?  I have a faith, I know what the future holds for me, I've survived."  Sort of like the advice when Dave Reaver will often say, you know, "Life isn't fair, but it's how you deal with the inequities in life, that's the real answer."

Bob: And, Dennis, we don't give out Medals of Honor for the kind of courage that Jim has shown in the face of a cancer surgery.  I'm thinking of folks I know who have gone through tremendous adversity, and the military gives Medals of Honor for bravery on the battlefield, and yet many of us are on a battlefield every day, and while there is not a Medal of Honor, there is a crown of life that has been stored up for those who persevere, for those who endure.

Dennis: And for those who do, there is a God in heaven who sees all.  He sees our fight and our courage in the face of fear, and it's that God that instructed Joshua – three times in Joshua, chapter 1 – "Be strong and courageous."  Be strong and courageous, be strong and be very courageous, and I don't know what you, as a listener, are facing right now, but I know that, over the past couple of days, if you've listened, you've heard stories of tremendous courage in the midst of adversity, in the midst of suffering, in the midst of personal harm and long-term disability, that people decided to go ahead and take the steps into the face of that suffering and, Jim, I just want to thank you for your book on valor and courage.  I'm looking forward to giving this to my father-in-law for Father's Day coming up here.

Bob: I'm thinking of a lot of guys I know who have served in the military or who are currently serving in the military.  This is a great book to give to them, and it can be evangelistic, it's a way of sharing your faith.  Military guys like to read stories of other guys who have served as they are serving.  And to give them a copy of the book, "Valor," or give them a copy of the other book that you've written called "Prisoners of Hope," which tells the story of 119 men who were prisoners of war all the way from World War II through the Gulf War.  Either or both of these books would be a great gift to give to someone who is retired military or someone who is active duty military, either as a Father's Day gift or just as a way to reach out and share your faith with somebody.

We've got copies of the book, "Valor," and the book, "Prisoners of Hope," in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting either or both of these books, they can go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  On the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn more," it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about both of these books.  You can order them online, if you'd like.

If you do order both books together, we'll send along, at no additional cost, the CD audio of our conversation this week with Jim Coy, and you can pass that along to someone who would enjoy hearing it as well.

Again, the website if FamilyLife.com.  You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and you can order these books by phone, if you'd like.  Again, it's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and when you call, someone on our team will be able to answer any questions you have about these books or make arrangements to have copies of them sent to you.

You know, our listeners, if they've been with us for any length of time, Dennis, have heard me mention that we are listener-supported, and what that means is that folks who listen also make donations to the ministry of FamilyLife Today so that this program can continue on this station and on other stations all across the country.

Some of those listeners will donate from time to time, something will spur them to either go online or call us to make a donation; others are Legacy Partners.  They make a donation each month to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and to provide the stable financial foundation on which this radio program rests, and we appreciate those of you who do help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Without your help, this program could not continue to be heard on this station and on other stations all across the country.  It really is a partnership, and we want you to know that we appreciate you, and we're grateful for your financial support.

You know, in the book that we've talked about today, the book "Valor," the story of Medal of Honor winners, there is a poem, Dennis, that I think is – I think it's good for us to remember what this poem – and the author is unknown – has written.  It reads,

"It's the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press;

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech;

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate;

It is the soldier who salutes the flag; who serves beneath the flag; and whose coffin is draped by the flag."

That's a great reminder.

Dennis: It is.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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