First Lt Michael Coltharp Callahan, the son of Hugh Lawson and Eva Cornelia Coltharp Callahan, was born February 24, 1918 at Hiwassee College, Monroe County, TN.
Mike was a graduate of Madisonville High School and Hiwassee College. He worked during 1941-1942 at the DuPont Rayon Plant in Old Hickory, TN in the Works Engineering Section as a draftsman. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1942 and with an ROTC commission, he was called to active duty on June 19, 1942. He trained as a combat engineer officer in the California desert and went overseas on April 26, 1943 as a platoon commander in the 378th Engineering Battalion. He fought in North Africa, Southern France and Germany.
Mike was serving with Company B, 2826 Engineering Battalion when he was killed in action on April 7, 1945, near Heilbronn, Germany. His outfit was building a floating Treadway bridge under heavy fire during the battle for Heilbronn. He was shot by a German sniper during the height of construction of the bridge. The bridge, which was completed enabling tanks to cross to support the Infantry on the opposite side, was later named for Mike.
A letter from the battalion executive officer, Maj. Donald M. Smith, provides insight into the details of Mike’s service. It shows they left Casablanca, Morocco in late February 1944 on a long train ride to Oran, Algeria where they loaded their equipment into trucks for the 25 mile journey to Arzew, on the coast east of Oran. There they constructed obstacles as training aids for the infantry that would prove invaluable later in Italy and France.
In March 1944 the 378th was reorganized for service in France. Mike’s company was reorganized as a Bailey Bridge Company whose twenty-two-and-a-half ton trucks carried a hundred feet of bridge; they trained in Arzew until August.
They participated in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, starting in August 1944. Major Smith’s letter reports that around 15 August Mike’s company sailed from the Oran harbor and landed in St. Tropez, France five days later. Mike’s job was to transport bridge sections to bridge sites and assist combat units in erecting bridges, sometimes under enemy fire.
Mike’s company delivered all the Bailey Bridges that the Seventh Army used in its movement through southern France—St. Tropez, Aix en Province, Avignon, Montilemar, Valence, Grenoble, Lyon, Bourg, Besancon, Epinal, Luneville, Sarrebourg and Saverne.
Mike sought and received transfer to a combat unit, the 36th Engineering Combat Group, located near Abreschviller south of Sarrebourg, in early January 1945. Major Smith saw Mike again in early March on the main Luneville-Sarrebourg highway where his unit was patching holes in the road. They had already been in line fighting as infantry. One night (as told by his first sergeant) Mike and a soldier went out to reconnoiter and were an hour overdue; when he returned he was literally beaming with four German prisoners under his capture. Major Smith heard later that Mike was due to be promoted to captain. He wrote of Mike’s singleness of purpose as an outstanding leader, respected by other officers and men.
On 26 January 1945 Mike tells of running into his brother-in-law, Ed Stone (LTC Guy Edward Stone, Jr. USA, Ret. 1918 – 2000 who later served in Korea and Vietnam).
Mike Callahan was survived by his father, Hugh Lawson Callahan, and his siblings: Edgemond Parker Callahan (m. Hattie Louise Stubblefield) of Knoxville and later Hyattsville, MD; Sophia Callahan (m. Frank Porter Horton) of Memphis; Eva Cornelia Callahan (m. Edward C. Dougherty) of Sweetwater and Caroline Callahan (m. Guy Edward Stone) of Big Stone Gap, VA and later Leander, TX.
Mike is buried at Madisonville Cemetery, Madisonville, Tennessee.
Pictured below are, left to right: 1st Lt. Michael Coltharp Callahan; his father, Professor Hugh Lawson Callahan, Monroe County Schools Superintendent; and Edgemond Parker Callahan, Mike’s older brother.
–Thanks to Kathy Callahan and her father, David E. Callahan, for the photos and biographical information.