Milton Staley’s Coolidge Recollections

With the passing of the 76th anniversary of the sinking of the SS President Coolidge, we thought it appropriate to release a new video that’s been cut from an interview that was conducted with Coolidge survivor Milton Staley in May of this year. The interview, recorded on behalf of the South Pacific World War II Museum by Milton’s nephew Richard Staley was done over a morning at Milton’s home in California. Richard did an incredible job capturing Milton’s life story, how he entered military service, his training and particularly his experiences as a soldier during combat.

At the time of sailing on the SS President Coolidge, Milton was heading for Guadalcanal via Espiritu Santo when it struck the two sea mines on October 26, 1942. Dressed in nothing more than his shorts, he, along with the other 5000+ servicemen and women as well as a small number of civilians made it to shore, with the loss of only two lives. The first being Fireman Robert Reid who was working in the engine room and Captain Elwood J Euart who successfully rescued men trapped in the infirmary but was unable to escape himself, and went down with the ship. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions. As the captain of the Coolidge had the presence of mind to deliberately run the crippled vessel aground in the shallow waters of the Segond Channel, it enabled almost everyone to get ashore safely.

After an extended stay on Santo driving supply trucks to and from the wharf in Luganville, Milton eventually made it to Guadalcanal. After being shipped back home he was reassigned to the European Theatre and was part of the D-Day landings at Utah Beach in 1944. Which means he earned the rare distinction of having served in both the Pacific and European Theatres of war. Milton is now 99 and lives in California and was the the first WWII veteran to sign up as a member of the South Pacific World War II Museum.