Elwood Joseph Euart was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on 28 January 1914. He was the oldest of seven children born to William H. & Ellen Euart. Elwood attended local schools in Pawtucket and entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1935 with the Class of 1939 majoring in Agriculture. He was the Vice President of Rho Iota Kappa Fraternity, President of the Aggie Club, member of the track team, member of Scabbard and Blade and Treasurer of the senior class. Elwood participated in the U.S. Army ROTC program and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Field Artillery upon graduation in June 1939.
On 6 October 1942, Captain Elwood J. Euart, with elements of the 43rd Infantry Division, set sail from San Francisco, California for Espiritu Santo just north of Australia on the SS President Coolidge. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the SS President Coolidge, stripped of her finery, painted gun-metal grey, was commissioned as a troop carrier for reinforcing garrisons in the Southwest Pacific. 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 SS Coolidge’s sailing orders.
Approaching Espiritu Santo on 26 October 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 friendly mine struck the ship at the engine room; and moments later, a second mine hit her near the stern. The Captain, knowing that he was going to lose the ship, ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 4,998 men got safely off of the wreck and made it to shore before she listed too heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel.
There were two casualties in the sinking of the SS Coolidge. The first casualty was a man working in the engine room who was killed by the first mine blast. The second casualty was Captain Elwood J. Euart, U.S. Army. Captain Euart had safely gotten off the SS Coolidge when he learned that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back in through one of the sea doors, successfully rescuing the men; but he was unable to escape, and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain Euart is located near the access points for the SS Coolidge. The site was declared a Protected Wreck and a War Grave.
For Extraordinary Heroism in Action, Captain Elwood Joseph Euart was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Rhode Island Cross (Posthumously).
Citation – Distinguished Service Cross
The Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) is awarded to Captain Elwood J. Euart, Field Artillery, United States Army for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 103d Field Artillery Battalion. 43d Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 26 October 1942. Captain Euart lost his life after helping to save a number of other men at the time of the sinking of the U.S. Army Transport PRESIDENT COOLIDGE. Learning of a group of soldiers trapped in the infirmary of the ship, he reentered the sinking ship to assist the trapped men…
By lashing himself to the lower end of a rope, he was able to hold it tight enough for the men to climb to safety, even though the ship was listing badly. When he finally attempted to climb the rope himself, it was hanging almost vertically. As he climbed, the ship careened and sank. Captain Euart’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 43d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
Captain Euart was a son of Rhode Island who answered the call to service during World War II and gave his life saving other soldiers. He was a Boy Scout for six years in Troop 602. The troop was renamed the Captain Elwood J. Euart Troop, and a Sea Scout ship was named after him. In New Zealand, Camp Euart was named after him; In New Hebrides, Euart Passage is named after him; and in Espirito Santo, Euart Airfield is named after him. In his home town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the Elwood J. Euart VFW Post 602 is named in his honor. He is a heroic member of the “Greatest Generation.”