The Lady and
Lady and the President - The Life and Loss of the SS President Coolidge,
by Peter Ston, was first published in 1997, and reprinted with some corrections,
in 1999. All of the corrections were typographic errors.
For full details on THE LADY AND THE PRESIDENT.
Milt Staley, Northern California. September 2002
I joined the 172 nd Infantry Battalion after finishing 'Basic' training at Camp Roberts in California. It is true we were issued wool uniforms and after being out to sea, we exchanged them for summer uniforms. I was in the Hdqrs company and we were on the Prominade deck at the stern of the ship on the starboard side.
The first land that I remember seeing was one afternoon we saw land off our starboard side, and as we got closer the ship stopped and we watched as a flight of fighter planes took off from this island and we were very happy to see they were ours. Members of the crew told us the island was Samoa. I noticed in your book one fellow said we stopped at the island of Canton. Just curios what the island really was, do you know?
The next land that I saw turned out to be New Calidonia, where we spent some time and then out sea again headed for what we were told would be Guadalcanal. On the morning of October 26 (1942) I was going to take a shower when I looked and saw land. Clad only in my shorts I went to the bow of the ship on the port side and straight ahead I could see ships and they were using signal lights flashing in code, and then off to my right, not too far away, a light came on, flashing signals, and then we hit the first mine, and then the second one.
I was one scared soldier. I thought we were torpeod at first, but then realized they were mines. I started to go back to my quarters, but by then the word came to Abandon Ship and the crew started to lower boats. There was so many people in the passage way I coudn't get through. They were issuing life jackets also.
The ship was starting to lilt to the side and a lot of the guys including me decided not to get off on the port side as we felt the ship would turn over on us, so a lot of us went over to the starboard side knowing it was closer to shore and climbed down the rope ladders. As you stated in your book, some of the guys were afraid to jump from the ropes, and needed a little persuation to put it mildly, to let go. I climbed down (in my shorts only) not far from the anchor chain and after helping some of the guys into boats, swam to shore. As I got near shore I stepped on the coral and cut my feet, not bad; a navy medic when I got on shore bandaged them for me.
Then began the life on the island which I will be telling you about in another letter. I didn't know when I started I was going to write a book!! Hope I haven't bored you to death!!! Thanks again Mr Stone for your great book, it's terrific!! Best regards Milt Staley.
D.La Rue, Rhode Island, USA. December 2001.
McIntyre, USA. July 2002
Carpenter. Newport, USA. February 2000
the U.S. in Oct 5, 1942 boarding the Coolidge in 'Frisco as a member of
Company L , 3rd Btn , 172nd Regimental Combat Team; assigned as mortar
Sgt in the weapons platoon. This was in the same Company with S/Sgt Steve
Parisi (later promoted to Capt). Steve was an outstanding soldier,
liked by everyone and friend of many. His platoon enjoyed a close comradeship.
He was a soldie'ss soldier - the
Your account of Capt. Nelson's trip to Noumea, and beyond, follows closely to my recollection, except in the mention of all the 'abandon ship' drills en route. I recall little, if any, of these but not to say it did not take place on other parts of the ship beyond the aft section. We were not allowed to wander about as units were assigned to specific quarters. So we probably missed some of the fun and games. For instance, I never saw or knew of the 'Lady' in the drawing room. - and it was only a vague rumor that there were any nurses aboard. At least they never bothered us on C deck Aft.
On the high seas it was monotony; only rarely did we spot other ships and no close contact until Noumea. It was a serious offense to throw a cigarette overboard while every evening at dusk there were truck loads of accumulated trash and garbage dumped off the stern.
Leaving Noumea we had no knowledge of destination - the war and all its unfolding events were a big secret. "You'll know when we get there", was the modus operendi. This coupled with the ongoing rivalry between the Army, Navy, Marines, Merchant Marines and others made life a guessing game and did nothing but spawn rumors.
At Espirito we stopped briefly outside the harbor and then proceeded (at a seemingly fast speed) to Segond Channel. It seemed fast as we were so close to the island after so many nays of nothing but water all round. I think the Captain was most anxious to gain shelter in the harbor due to sub threat.
Hitting the first mine felt like driving your car off a bank and landing on a rockpile. My company was lined up on C deck waiting to go down for breakfast. We saw someone up forward thrown off the ship who went cart-wheeling into the water. A few life jackets were tossed overboard to him which I believe saved him. Figured he may have been sitting on the top rail of a gun turret but never did hear the particulars.
There must have been some ship drills, however, because the next event following the second mine was that a few lifeboats were quickly lowered and the Merchant mariners took off in a big hurry alone (women and chilnren first - never the troops). Your research has likely found a plausible explanation herewith.
There was no PA announcement of instructions, nothing. We just stood around waiting for something to happen, thinking that "this boat is too big to sink" probably because it had been our home for some three weeks. Talk about false security.
Anyway, some started down cargo nets; flotations were cut loose (drifting away) and some small boats came out to help. The shore was so close it dispelled any panic. I left the port side aft standing on the rail and stepped into a lighter and went a short way to board a mine tender (100 yds or so). By then the ship was well over and gaining momentum. To this day I can see it all and was in amazement that such a thing could happen so easily.
After a meal on that boat we went asore for introduction to mud, coconut trees, mosquitos, coconut crabs and the 15th N.C.B. where we lived for a while on. two meals a day and very thankful for them. Not much shelter and little clothing for most of us. No picnic here.
Right away we became airport construction workers and stevedores, etc. It took five months to get re-equipped and went on to the ‘Canal' in March 1943. The 164th Infantry from the Americal division took our place up there to relieve the Marines.The Americal name comes from America-Caledonia because that Division was formed in Noumea. The original Guard Divisions had four infantry regiments each. In 1941 they were triangularized (leaving three regiments each). Then the odd regiments were banded together to form the Americal.
My regiment - the 172nd Infantry - was from Vermont and gained fame in the U S Civil War 1861 - 1865 where they earned their motto 'Put The Vermonters Ahead'. My Company "L" of the 3rd Btn had its home base here in Newport on the International boundary with Canada. It has undergone several changes since that war.
The unanswered questions I've always had are the same ones you raise in the book. Where were we going to disembark at Espirito and how were we to be transported to the 'Canal. For sure there was no thought of risking the transport any nearer to a combat zone when there were known subs in the Hebrides. Also, the item of the heavy guns and gear on the Coolidge. It would be nice to know of those plans.
The Naval hearing for Captain Nelson was to be expected. Navy was looking for a scapegoat to save the skin on their nose. And I subscribe to your thought that for want of a staple a ship was lost. This has a ring of truth knowing how hurried and slipshod the war was then.
From the pictures it appears the Coolidge could have rolled another turn and ended bottom side up. Maybe the earthquakes have helped this along.
like the story of the 'Lady' as she has given a lot of dignity and class
to the ship. Kathy just told me of your account of her falling down and
being restored in her righful place. Blessings on the old girl. She has
earned her place in history. How fortunate we are that those divers, Allan
Power, Reece Discombe and
Your style and throughness is to b commended. Again, sincere appreciation to you for those years of research and work to bring us ‘the Lady' up from the sea. It is a classic.
Jaquith. Florida, USA. November 1999.
Your concluding statement that my purchase price,as $10, makes for a more interesting story and I would not have changed it for the world. Just for information purposes however, it should have read "for the sum of $10.00 and other valuable considerations" - seemingly a small and perhaps a redundant matter. To explain, most governmental agencies in this country are reluctant to state the actual value of any contract, sale or purchase as it can often be counterproductive in a competitive application, such as the purchase of an aircraft carrier or sale of mineral rights.
current laws the public has the right to request copies of any public document,
so without such obfuscation there would be no such thing as "nobodys'
Enough chit-chat for the moment, again thank you for the book.