13th September 2017
At 9am on October 26 1942, American troop ship the SS President Coolidge struck two mines while entering the shipping channel of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, known at the time as New Hebrides. Captain Elwood J Euart lead a rescue mission following the ships grounding to save the 5,340 men trapped in the ship’s infirmary below the decks.
Captain Euart tied a rope around his waist and lowered himself down into the ship via a sea door. Though seriously listing, the remaining men onboard were able to climb up the rope and escape the perilous ship. Unfortunately the ship began to roll, with Captain Euart trapped deep in the interior. Unable to make his way up the rope, Captain Euart went down with the ship. For his bravery, Captain Euart was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Rhode Island Cross for Extraordinary Heroism in Action and the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest award for valour.
Today, the SS President Coolidge is one of Vanuatu’s and the world’s most sought after dive sites. Keeping the memory of Captain Euart and his bravery alive, the 'Coolidge' is off the island of Santo and is one of the most recommended Vanuatu diving attractions. However the historical site is only recommended for experienced divers who should allow several days to fully explore and appreciate its significance.
The 26th of October 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the SS President Coolidge and the launch of the South Pacific World War II Museum Project. An initiative of the Elwood J Euart Association, the project was established to develop a world-class, museum in Espiritu Santo to honour Captain Elwood J Euart and all the other lives sacrificed during the South Pacific conflict. The memorial ceremony marks the beginning of a week of activities commemorating the anniversary of the Coolidge sinking.