Tuesday, 01 November 2022 – Port-Vila, Vanuatu: Last Wednesday [26 October 2022], the Vanuatu Tourism Office and Vanuatu’s South Pacific WWII Museum hosted a series of celebrations in Luganville (Espiritu Santo) to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the SS President Coolidge (the Coolidge), including a special ceremony and the unveiling of an exhibition on the US troop carrier and its role in Vanuatu’s WWII history.
Attended by VIPs from around the world, including High Commissioners and Ambassadors from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France and Japan, the day commenced with a ceremony at the memorial of the Coolidge’s Captain, Elwood J Euart. Delegates stood together to witness the raising of the Vanuatu and US flags and the tolling of the Coolidge’s bell, honouring the lives lost in the sinking of the ship in 1942. A wreath was laid at the base of Captain Euart’s memorial by the US Chief of Mission to Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, Joe Zadronzny, and the Museum’s Chairman, Bradley Wood.
After the ceremony, guests gathered on the beach and watched as divers explored the hidden underwater world and history of the Coolidge, a now famous dive site and a travel holiday icon in Vanuatu. School children from Luganville cast flower petals into the water, and a wreath was released into the sea. A US Air Force aircraft treated attendees to a fly-by over Luganville, in a spectacular conclusion of the ceremony.
Following this, the South Pacific WWII Museum unveiled a special exhibition featuring never-before-seen artefacts that were recovered from the Coolidge wreck before it was listed as a heritage site by the Vanuatu Government in 1972.
Mr. Owen Drew, President of the Vanuatu Scuba Operators Association (VSOA) and Board Member of the Vanuatu Tourism office (VTO) addressed the gathering at the World War II Museum in Santo for the 80th anniversary of the Sinking of the President Coolidge, after the veseel hit two allied mines. It sunk with two deaths, however , 5.000 troops were able to survive. He recalled that he first dived on the Coolidge way back in 1980 when he was coming back from the then Palakula Slipway with his ship Coongoola and tied up to the Coolidge mast and stayed there for a couple of days diving. At that time, the Late Allan Power was the un-official guardian of the Coolidge and did not like new comers visiting “His” wreck. So Owen and Allan had some words but was sorted out when Allan found out that they both had mutual diving friends who salvaged the propellors off the Coolidge. Owen went on to say that the Coolidge has put Santo on the world map for scuba diving with many divers coming to Santo to dive the wreck when there were only a few other tourists going to santo. He said that the Coolidge had the same drawcard effect for Santo as Tanna has with the Yasur Volcano. Over the years the Coolidge has brought in many, many international divers to dive the wreck which is said to be the most accessible wreck in the world. For the Late Allan Power, the very well-known Diving Character in Santo and before he passed away, the scuba association (VSOA) assisted in having him be awarded entry to the much prestige’s International Scuba Divers Hall of Fame based in the USA for his dedication to the preservation of the wreck. He then went on to thank the organizers of the celebration including those from the World War II Museum, particularly Mr. Bradley Wood, the VTO for its sponsorship and all voluntary helpers from Santo who have spent a lot of time and effort in making the celebration a success.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, one of the ship’s whistles was sounded for the first time since 1942, rewarding guests with the opportunity to hear the ‘voice of the Coolidge’ once again. Other exhibition items include the ship’s original bell, which is on public display for the first time. The exhibition will run for two weeks, until 9 November 2022.
“It has been a long journey in restoring and paying homage to the President Coolidge. It was an emotional commemoration, as the community joined us to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Coolidge. The ship wreck itself forms an integral part of the island [Espiritu-Santo] and the people have a very strong connection to it, developed over the years. It is one of the world most accessible diving ship wreck and it has become an iconic tourism spot for many. We will continue to grow the museum and act as caretakers for the Coolidge and we invite international visitors, fans, enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in this remarkable wreck, to come and visit Santo”, says James Carter, Project Manager of the South Pacific WWII Museum.
In further marking the anniversary celebration of this iconic tourism diving spot international, VTO’s Long Haul Market Manager, Ms. Lea Faccarello prepares to showcase the Espiritu Santo and the USS President Coolidge in the DEMA show in Orlando, US from 01st to 04th November, 2022 welcoming more than 30 buyers to the Vanuatu tourism booth.