A United States of America (US) Recovery Unit, from Hawaii arrived in Luganville, Santo, yesterday to commence an operation of recovering the remains of the US Marines that sank and died when the SS President Coolidge hit friendly mines and sank off the Million Dollar Point during World War II.
Confirming the operation to the Daily Post yesterday afternoon by phone from Luganville, Malcolm Davies, of the Santo Island Dive said the Operation will commence today to recover the remains of the US Marines that lost their lives when the President Coolidge sank.
He also said that one of the remains could be that of Captain Elwood Joseph Euart, but that this can only be confirmed after the recovery operation is completed and the remains are identified and certified by the US recovery unit specialist.
Malcolm Davies told the Daily Post that more information on the recovery operation will be released later.
According to information obtained online, during World War ll a large US military base had been established on Santo and the harbour was heavily protected by mines.
Information about safe entry into the harbour had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders, and on her approach to Santo, Coolidge, fearing Japanese submarines and unaware of the mine fields, tried to enter the harbour through the largest and most obvious channel.
A mine struck the ship in the engine room, and moments later a second mine hit her near her stern.
Captain Henry Nelson, knowing that he was going to lose the ship, ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Not believing the ship would sink, troops were told to leave all of their belongings behind under the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next few days.
Over the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men from the ship got safely ashore.
The captain’s attempts to beach the ship were thwarted by a coral reef. Coolidge listed heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel. There were only two casualties in the sinking. The first was Fireman Robert Reid, who was working in the engine room and was killed by the first mine blast. The second, Captain Elwood Joseph Euart, US Army Field Artillery, had safely got off Coolidge when he heard that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He returned through one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable to escape himself and went down with the ship.
A memorial to Captain Euart is on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge.
In 1980 Vanuatu won independence from France and Britain, and on November 18, 1983 the government of the new republic, through support of people such as Allan Power, 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. Divers see a largely intact luxury cruise liner and a military ship. They can swim through numerous holds and decks. There are guns, cannons, Jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies, a beautiful statue of “The Lady” (a porcelain relief of a lady riding a unicorn) chandeliers, and a mosaic tile fountain. Coral grows around, with many creatures such as reef fish, barracuda, lionfish, sea turtles and moray eels.
Coolidge is perhaps the most accessible shipwreck of her size and type. The wreck is one of the most desirable dives due to relatively shallow site, easy beach access, and visibility. The depths involved mean that, with care and decompression stops, recreational divers can explore large parts of the wreck without specialized equipment. The massive size of the wreck, combined with the gradual downward slope, mean that care must be taken monitoring depth, as the diver’s horizontal frame of reference may be skewed, preventing awareness of the continual gradual descent.
In 2007 The Times named the President Coolidge as one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world.
Since then the ship has been used for recreational diving. Divers see a largely intact luxury cruise liner and a military ship.
Coolidge is perhaps the most accessible shipwreck of her size and type. The wreck is one of the most desirable dives due to relatively shallow site, easy beach access, and visibility.