WWII Museum to blow off some steam

Big plans for S.S. President Coolidge 80th anniversary

On October 26, the South Pacific WWII Museum in Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the S.S. President Coolidge off the coast of Santo in 1942.


The ship tragically sank after it struck two sea mines protecting the harbour entrances from Japanese submarines in World War II.


The Coolidge was deliberately driven onto the reef just off the island of Espiritu Santo by her captain, to enable the 5435 US soldiers to make it safely ashore.

The only casualties of the event were ship’s fireman Robert Read, killed in the initial explosion and US Army officer, Captain Elwood J Euart. Captain Euart lost his life going back into the sinking ship to rescue soldiers from lower decks.


Unable to get himself out due to exhaustion, Euart tragically went down with the ship on the morning of October 26. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.


Much is planned for the commemoration in Luganville, as the South Pacific WWII Museum honour the role the ship plays in the island’s WWII history and remembering Captain Euart and Fireman Read with a short ceremony at Euart’s memorial, adjacent to where the ship still lies to this day.


The wreck is widely recognised as one of the best, if not the best wreck dive of its type in the world, thanks to its accessibility for both amateur and experienced divers. As such, many international divers will be in town on the day, to participate in commemorative dives on the 80th anniversary.

Following the commemoration, the South Pacific WWII Museum will open a special exhibition of Coolidge items recovered from the area around the wreck before it was listed as a heritage site by the Vanuatu Government many years later.


The most significant of those items is the original ship’s bell which will go on public display for the first time thanks to the generosity of the family of former Vanuatu dive legend, Reece Discombe, who has made the bell available for the exhibition.


Additionally, one of the ship’s original huge whistles will go on display in the Museum. Also recovered from the seafloor by the former ‘caretaker’ of the Coolidge, the late Allan Power, the whistle will come to life at the opening of the exhibition, following an extensive restoration in Luganville.


Given its enormous size, the whistle will no doubt be heard from one end of town to the other, as the ‘voice of the Coolidge’ sounds for the first time in 80 years.


Other events are planned for the day and details of these will be posted on the Museum’s social media and website as the day approaches.


The South Pacific World War II Museum is extremely grateful for the support of the Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO), who are sponsoring the commemoration and exhibition.


VTO CEO Adela Issachar Aru in announcing their support, said, “historical or heritage tourism means traveling with the primary purpose of exploring the history and heritage of a place. People visiting Espiritu Santo can combine their love of history with other tourist delights like diving in order to visit the SS President Coolidge.

Museum Chairman Bradley Wood is absolutely thrilled to have the support of VTO. “We’ve been working towards this event for a very long time, so to have the Vanuatu Tourism Office behind us, makes all that hard work extra worthwhile,” he said. “We can’t thank VTO enough for coming on board.”


The Museum would also like to thank Air Vanuatu for assisting with the uplift of the special large format posters and display materials going in the Museum for the exhibition. Air Vanuatu have been a fabulous supporter of the Museum prior to lockdown and we’re grateful for their ongoing support for the South Pacific WWII Museum.

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