An Undeniable Act Of Self Sacrifice
Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on 28 January 1914, Elwood was the eldest of seven children born to William and Ellen Euart. As a youngster, Elwood attended local schools in Pawtucket before entering Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1935. College life was quite obviously a diverse one for Elwood becoming a member of the college track team, president of the Aggie Club, member of Scabbard and Blade, Vice President of Rho Iota Kappa Fraternity and Treasurer of the senior class. His military career began with his participation in the U.S. Army ROTC program where he was ultimately commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery upon his graduation in June 1939, majoring in Agriculture.
On October 6, 1942, Captain Elwood J. Euart, with elements of the 43rd Infantry Division, set sail from San Francisco, for New Hebrides on the SS President Coolidge. Following the establishment of the military bases on Santo, the harbour was heavily protected by mines. However, the location of the mines had been omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders.
Approaching the island of Espiritu Santo on 26 October 1942, the Coolidge, entered the harbour through the largest and most obvious channel. Unfortunately the ship struck a mine which exploded next to the engine room and moments later it struck a second mine nearer to her stern.
Fearing the ship would sink, the captain, ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 4,998 men got safely disembarked the wreck and made it to shore as it sat precariously on a coral reef. But when Elwood learned that a group of men were trapped below decks in the ship’s infirmary, he led a rescue party to save them. Tying a rope around his waist, he had himself lowered down into the now seriously listing ship via a sea door. The remaining men were able to scramble up the rope that Elwood held the end of, deep in the ship’s interior. However, as the last of them made it to safety, the ship began to roll and slip towards the deep shipping channel.
With arms aching and energy spent, Elwood was not able to make it up the rope before the Coolidge sank, taking his life with it. For Extraordinary Heroism in Action, Captain Elwood Joseph Euart was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross – the second-highest award for valor in America – in addition to the Purple Heart and the Rhode Island Cross (Posthumously).