Informally considered the start of the summer season, the Memorial Day weekend is upon us. With the ritual gatherings of friends and family, this weekend also includes a day of remembrance, a time set aside to honor our nation’s fallen soldiers for their ultimate sacrifice. This Memorial Day, we highlight the sacrifice of an individual, Captain Elwood J. Euart, whose story was reported recently in the local press.
A Rhode Island native and the eldest of seven children, Elwood Euart attended Rhode Island State College (now the University of Rhode Island), where he participated in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Upon graduation in 1939, he was commissioned as a Field Artillery Second Lieutenant. Later, he became a member of the National Guard. In 1942, after the U.S. entry into the Second World War, Euart, now a captain, along with elements of the 43rd Infantry Division, was sent on the SS President Coolidge to a military base on the Pacific Island of Espiritu Santo.
Though the island’s harbor had mine defenses to stop Japanese submarines from approaching, information regarding a safe passage through the mines had been omitted from the ship’s orders, and the ship did not receive radio messages to stop. Upon entering the harbor, the ship struck two mines, and the ship’s captain, fearing that the vessel was sinking, ran it aground on a reef and ordered the crew to evacuate.
By all accounts, Euart had evacuated the ship, but, upon learning that soldiers remained on board below deck in the infirmary, notwithstanding the ship’s precarious position listing to one side and sinking, he secured a rope to a stanchion, tied it around his waist, entered the sea door of the vessel, and descended to the infirmary. Euart aided his shipmates up the rope where fellow soldiers awaited, assuring that all those in the infirmary made it to safety. Sadly, Euart could not untie himself, and he perished as the ship descended under the surface to a watery grave on the ocean bottom. For his extraordinary heroic sacrifice, Euart was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Rhode Island Cross.
In 1948, Army rescuers sought to reclaim Euart’s remains, but with the ship 200 feet below the ocean’s surface, they were unrecoverable. There they rested for 70 years until, in 2012, divers exploring the vessel came upon them and alerted the government. In 2015, Army divers joined local divers to recover Euart’s dog tags and DNA evidence confirming his identity. At long last, Euart’s remains were recovered, and he was buried alongside his parents. One can only imagine the joy on Eternity’s Shore that day.
It is said that, as we age, time seems to pass more quickly than it did during our youth. What once seemed like an endless summer now quickly races into fall, with winter holidays in hot pursuit. After a post-New Year’s interregnum, spring comes upon us, and, before we know it, we find ourselves on the cusp of summer again. It is a reminder of how fleeting time is, making the gift of life precious, and its sacrifice for others awe-inspiring.
Elwood Euart’s heroism is not limited to one war or one age. His selflessness is emblematic, not only of the highest ideals of human nature, but also of love’s spiritual perfection. This weekend, let us pause to remember his sacrifice and the sacrifice of all the other Elwood Euarts who, over the course of our nation’s history, willingly offered their lives in our defense.
[N.B. Sister Lucia Treanor FSE, a relative of Elwood Euart and a professor at the Catholic University of America, tells his story in her book, “Elwood: The Story of a Catholic World War II Hero,” which is available on amazon.com. The following sources were used in the drafting of this blog: