Built during October 1931 for the Dollar Steamship Lines. In 1938 when the company collapsed was transfered to the American President Lines. As a luxury liner, the ship had a first class section for 305, tourist class of 133 and steerage class of 402 passengers. Amenities staterooms, lounges, telephones, two saltwater swimming pools, a barber shop, beauty salon, gymnasium and soda fountain. The liner once setting a speed record from San Francisco to Japan.
In 1940, helped evacuate Americans from Hong Kong during 1940. During June 1941, the liner was impressed into U. S. Army service and made transport runs from Hawaii and Manila.
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.
In her first voyage as a troopship, the Coolidge transported troops and equipment overseas to Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Bora Bora, and Suva then returned to California.
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.
On October 26, 1942 while approaching Segond Channel off Espiritu Santo Harbor, the vessel collided with two sea mines, laid a month earlier by US Navy destroyers.
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 from Pawtucket, RI had safely gotten off the ship when he learned that there men were still in the infirmary who could not get out. Euart voluntarily 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.
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'.
There were three official inquiries surrounding the cause of the sinking. The first preliminary Court of Inquiry convened November 12, 1942 aboard the USS Whitney at the behest of Admiral Halsey. The Court of Inquiry recommended additional charges be laid against Captain Nelson. The matter was referred to a Military Commission which convened in Noumea, New Caledonia on December 8, 1942. This commission acquitted Captain Nelson of guilt. From the Commission of Inquiry it came out that Merchant Marine vessels were not given all available tactical information, most notably regarding the placement of mines. This simple precaution would have prevented the sinking. This outcome did not please the Navy Department, and he was referred to a Coast Guard Investigation Board upon his return to the United States on February 6, 1943. This Investigation Board took no further action.
The two individuals killed were officially declared dead the day of the sinking.
Postumously, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Euart is memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at the court of the missing, court 7. He also has a memorial marker at Saint Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket, RI at section 3. A memorial to Euart is located on the shore of Espiritu Santo, the nearest shore point to the Coolidge.
During November 20-30, 1942 the USS Ortolan ASR-5 salvaged war supplies and materials from the shipwreck.
The shipwreck lies
on her port side with her bow at 70', only a short walk
and swim from the coastline 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.
The ship sank on her port side at a depth of 70' to 240' underwater.
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.
Other sources list four or five dead in the sinking.
National Geographic "Ghosts of War"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Elwood J. Euart
"Captain Euart died while rescuing soldiers on board the USAT President Coolidge when it sank at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. Partial remains were recovered by a civilian diver in 2012. A JPAC underway recovery teams discovered additional remains in 2014. CAPT Euart remains were identified. His remains are interred at a private cemetery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. His name is permanently inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific."
Capt Elwood Joseph Euart (photos, courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Elwood J Euart (memorial marker photos)
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May 22, 2017