On December 7, 1941 President Coolidge with transport A. T. Scott escorted by USS Louisville (CA-28). was en route from Tarakan to Pearl Harbor. The liner diverted to California where it was converted to a troop transport capable of carrying 5,440 men and was painted gray and armed with defensive weapons.
On October 6, 1942 departed San Francisco via New Caledonia bound for Espiritu Santo. Aboard were 5,440 troops, mostly from the US Army 43rd Infantry Division. Plus extensive equipment, armaments and supplies.
Captain Henry Nelson attempted to run the ship aground and ordered an abandon ship. Those aboard were told to leave all of their belongings behind under the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next few days.
Two were killed in the sinking. Fireman Robert Reid was working in the engine room and was killed by the initial mine blast. Captain Elwood J. Euart, U. S. Army Artillery Corps had safely gotten off the Coolidge when he learned that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back aboard and into one of the sea doors. After successfully rescuing the men, he was unable to escape and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Euart is located on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge. Other sources list four or five dead in the sinking.
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men got safely off of the wreck and to shore. There was no panic as the troops disembarked - many even walked to shore. However, the captain's attempts to beach the ship were unsuccessful due to the coral reef. The Coolidge listed heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel. She now rests on her port side with her bow at a depth of 70' and her stern at 240'.
During November 20-30, 1942 the USS Ortolan ASR-5 salvaged war suppies off the sunken ship.
Salvage operations which recovered items such as the propeller blades, bunker oil, brass casings of shells, electric motors, junction boxes and copper tubing. However, on November 18, 1983 the Vanuatu government declared that no salvage or recovery of any artifact would be allowed from the Coolidge. Since then the ship has been used for recreational diving.
The shipwreck lies on her port side with her bow at only 70', only a short walk and a swim from shore near Luganville. At 45m within the ship is "The Lady" in the first class passengers lounge smoking room. Now she poses for those divers sufficiently experienced to penetrate the wreck.