December 12, 1942 Report of the Sinking of the SS President Coolidge

During the war, detailed records were kept that later were transcribed for review by historians. Today’s story comes from that report. Imagine how different Christmas of 1942 would have been for the families of over five thousand soldiers if the Captain of this ship had not taken the actions he did.


The former liner S. S. President Coolidge, owned by the American President Lines, San Francisco, Calif., chartered and operated by the War Shipping Administration for the U. S. Army, was lost in recent weeks in the South Pacific.

The vessel, operating as a transport, was fully loaded with troops and equipment when it struck a mine and sank.

Through prompt and efficient rescue efforts casualties were limited to four men.

Henry Nelson, 3714 Irving Street, San Francisco, Calif., who is a survivor, was master of the S. S. President Coolidge.

The S. S. President Coolidge, of 21,936 gross tons, was completed in 1931 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, Va. It was 615 feet 6 inches in length, had a beam of 81 feet 3 inches, and a draft of 28 feet 2 inches.


In 1941, as war time activities increased, the US War Department began to use the President Coolidge for occasional voyages to Honolulu and Manila. She also helped evacuate Americans from Hong Kong when Japanese-British relations became strained in 1940. She was later called upon to assist in the evacuations of many people from Asia as the Japanese aggression increased. In June 1941, the Coolidge went into service with the American Army as a transport ship for reinforcing garrisons in the Pacific. A few months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After this, the Coolidge was stripped of her finery, painted haze gray, mounted with guns and turned into a troop ship. Many of the fixtures and fittings were removed or boarded up for protection. After full conversion in 1942, she could carry over 5,000 troops. As a troop carrier, she was never intended to see any action. In her first few months of service, her ports of call included Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Bora Bora, and Suva. On October 6, she set sail from her home port of San Francisco, California for New Caledonia and Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu


A large military base and harbor had been established on Espiritu Santo and the harbor was heavily protected by mines. Information about safe entry into the harbor had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders, and upon her approach to Santo on October 26, 1942, the SS Coolidge, fearing Japanese submarines and unaware of the mine fields, attempted to enter the harbor through the largest and most obvious channel. A mine struck the ship at the engine room and moments later, a second mine hit her near the 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 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 20 metres (70 ft) and her stern at 70 metres (240 ft).


There were 2 casualties in the sinking of the Coolidge: [2] The first was Fireman Robert Reid, who was working in the engine room and was killed by the initial mine blast. The second, Captain Elwood J. Euart, US Army Field Artillery, 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 in to one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable to escape himself and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain Euart is located on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge.

It would be interesting to talk with one of the soldiers that escaped to see what it was like in the days and weeks afterwards. The wreck is now a world class diving destination.


Mister Mac

25 thoughts on “December 12, 1942 Report of the Sinking of the SS President Coolidge

    1. My Dad name was Richard Brown Schneider and he was on the SS Coolidge. He said he was able to swim off the deck to shore. He passed away 2004 at the age of 98 years old. He raised 3 boys and lived and worked at the Goodyear tire plant 2 in Akron, Ohio and lived in a house still standing today 1250 Grant street wher e the oldest son now lives. We live in florida and my name is Craig and my other brother is Rod Girard/ Alias real name is Roderick Girard Schneider and he lives in Pinninsula County Akron, Ohio. My Dad told us about the ship hitting a mine and it went down quickley. The captain was truly a hero for going in to get those men free.

  1. My Dad SSgt Frank J. Svihula was on that ship and survived and returned home in 1945. He was married and was a great family man and died 11-2-1990. He lived in Chicago, Il all of his life.

  2. The bottom of the photo is not belong to the Coolidge. Captain Elwood J. Euart’s remain was found with his Dog Tag in 2015, the Army brought him home in August 2016.

  3. My grandfather, Pfc. Joseph A. LaValley, was on this ship and was honored with a Presidential Citation for his courage and discipline displayed during the sinking of his ship the US Army Transport President Coolidge in the South Pacific. I have a photo of the article (that has since been destroyed in a flood) of him receiving the award.

    The article was old and tattered but is still readable. I would love to be able to find out what newspaper or magazine originally published it to see if I could get a new copy of it. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    The link to the photo on my FB page is:

  4. My father was an infantryman aboard this ship when it hit those two harbor mines. To my knowledge he did not belong to the 172nd Infantry, 43rd Infantry Division which I read was aboard; however, he was in another unit of the 43rd from the reorganization of the Connecticut Army National Guard (New Haven) when it was federalized (Feb 1941). Does anyone know what other units of the 43rd Infantry Division were aboard the Coolidge? After the ship sunk, his unit went to Australia to await replacement equipment lost with the Coolidge. I know he later was wounded during the invasion of the Philippine Islands in late 1943 and returned to duty later. Thanks

  5. My dad, Lloyd A. Ponder, was shipped from San Francisco to Manila, Philippine Islands aboard the President Coolidge, docking in Manila on Thanksgiving Day 1941. A week later Pearl Harbor was attacked and my dad, an aircraft mechanic, was given a rifle and attached to the infantry on Bataan. He made it to Corregidor where he fought with a Marine unit on beach defense until they were overwhelmed by amphibious assault on the night of May 5-6, 1942. He survived the prison camps in the Philippines, then the Hell Ships (the Nissyo Maru), then imprisonment in the Narumi camp in Japan until liberated at the end of the war.

    1. Nelly, if possible ask your grandfather if he knew Ralph Drinkwine who was also on this ship. He was wounded at Luzon. He taught and influenced me greatly as a boy on many hunting and fishing trips. I can be reached at . Thanks, Kirk Thames

    2. Where does he live?? I’d love to meet with him! I am one of the nephews of Capt Elwood Euart who died on that day.

  6. i have a painting of the ss president coolidge painted in yokohama japan in 1940 its of the highest quality

    1. I have a Neptune Rex Sea Certificate from the Coolidge dated 12 October 1942 given to a Charles J. Panpintos BM 2C. Does anyone know who he was ? This is about 12 days before the sinking.

  7. I am a nephew of Capt. Elwood Euart and I visited yesterday (6/17/19) with a survivor of the Coolidge. He is 101 yrs old and lives here in Vermont. I would like to find any remaining survivors, wherever they may be. I can be contacted at Thank you

  8. My father, PFC Frank Silver, was on the ship. He would not talk about his war experience.

  9. My Dad was on this boat. I’m sure of it. Theodore Vaine. He was Vermont National Guard then later US Army. Not sure of his rank.
    He was 88 when he died in 2004
    He spoke of his experience on this vessel

    1. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if our fathers would have told us stories about what happened. But I guess they wouldn’t have been able to survive their family lives as we knew it. Thank God for their bravery……

  10. My father George Michael Misheff was on the ship I believe he received a bronze star for assisting another soldier who could not swim to shore. Are there any records to verify the roster on the ship. I do not know the last name of the person he assisted but I leave believe his First name is Cecil “Sonny” ——-?

  11. My Dad was on the ship the day it hit the
    He told me things about the day
    His name was Frederick Harris
    He was in the National Guard out of
    Newport Vermont

  12. My Dad was on that ship. He was with the 43rd division (members of the VT National Guard) He was from Brattleboro VT. He passed away in January of 2000.

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