The SS President Coolidge was completed in 1931 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, Newport News, Va. She was 615 feet 6 inches in length, had a beam of 81 feet 3 inches, and a draft of 28 feet 2 inches.
In 1941, as war time activities increased, the US War Department began to use the President Coolidge for occasional voyages to Honolulu and Manila. She also helped evacuate Americans from Hong Kong when Japanese-British relations became strained in 1940.
She was later called upon to assist in the evacuations of many people from Asia as the Japanese aggression increased. In June 1941, the Coolidge went into service with the American Army as a transport ship for reinforcing garrisons in the Pacific. A few months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. (Henry Nelson, Master of the Coolidge)
At the time of attack, the Coolidge was halfway between the Orient and Hawai‘i. She was the last American vessel to leave the Philippine Islands; she arrived at Honolulu after a perilous trip with hundreds of evacuees, including women, children, missionaries, government officials, businessmen, Army and Navy officers, and many Chinese aviation cadets.
Upon reaching Honolulu, this world cruise ship was placed immediately at the disposal of military officials. Her already overcrowded deck spaces were jammed with hundreds more, waiting to leave the Islands. (Margaret Logan; HNA)
Nineteen US Navy ships, including 8 battleships were destroyed or damaged; the attack killed 2,403 US personnel, including 68 civilians, and the wounded numbered 1,178.
The first casualties arrived at the Pearl Harbor hospital within ten minutes after the first attack, and by 0900 they were coming into the hospital in a steady stream. Casualties were distributed to the main operating suite or to any one of the twelve wards where empty beds were available.
A receiving ward would have caused a ‘hopeless bottleneck,’ and was not used. Although an effort was made to send acute surgical cases to the surgical wards and fracture cases to the orthopedic wards every ward received a variety of cases. (navy-mil)
The leading causes of casualties were burns, compound fractures, flesh wounds (gunshots, shell, and shrapnel) and penetrating abdominal wounds. Sixty percent of all casualties at Pearl Harbor were burn cases caused by burning fuel oil and/or flash burns. Most burns were extensive (up to 80 percent,) and mainly first and second degree. (National WWII Museum)
“The command decided that patients who would need more than 3 months treatment should be transferred. Some were very bad and probably should not have been moved.” (Lieutenant Ruth Erickson, Nurse Corps, Navy)
“(T)he Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross requested the Nursing Service Bureau to obtain the services of seventeen nurses to leave on a ship for a port.”
“This call came at 11:30 am. At 1:00 pm seventeen nurses, in uniform, with bags hurriedly packed, leaving families, Christmas trees and packages, were at the Mabel Smyth building.” (American Journal of Nursing, April, 1942)
“Eleven days after the Japanese Navy’s torpedoes and bombs blasted ships and airfields at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, the first small convoy was formed at Honolulu to begin the evacuation of the wounded.”
“About 200 of the more critically burned and fractured survivors were placed aboard two ships under the care of Red Cross and US Navy nurses.” (Margaret Logan; HNA)
“This convoy, composed of the American President Lines’ luxury liner, President Coolidge, the US Army transport, General Scott, and two escort destroyers, steamed out of the entrance channel … and headed for San Francisco.” (Margaret Logan; HNA)
Three Navy nurses and a number of corpsmen from the hospital were assigned to the SS Coolidge. “Eight volunteer nurses from the Queens Hospital in Honolulu were attached to the Army transport at the next pier, USAT (US Army transport) Scott, a smaller ship.” (Lieutenant Ruth Erickson, Nurse Corps, Navy)
“(W)e left in the late afternoon of the 19th. There were 8 or 10 ships in the convoy. It was quite chilly the next day; I later learned that we had gone fairly far north instead of directly across.”
“The rumors were rampant that a submarine was seen out this porthole in some other direction. I never get seasick and enjoy a bit of heavy seas, but this was different! Ventilation was limited by reason of sealed ports and only added to gastric misery. I was squared about very soon.”
“The night before we got into port, we lost a patient, an older man, perhaps a chief. He had been badly burned, He was losing intravenous fluids faster than they could be replaced. Our destination became San Francisco with 124 patients and one deceased.”
“We arrived at 8 am on Christmas Day! Two ferries were waiting there for us with cots aboard and ambulances from the naval hospital at Mare Island and nearby civilian hospitals. The Red Cross was a cheerful sight with donuts and coffee.”
“Our arrival was kept very quiet. Heretofore, all ship’s movements were published in the daily paper but since the war had started, this had ceased. I don’t recall that other ships in the convoy came in with us except for the Scott. We and the Scott were the only ships to enter the port. The convoy probably slipped away.”
“The patients were very happy to be home and so were we all. The ambulances went on ahead to Mare Island. By the time we had everyone settled on the two ferries, it was close to noon.”
“We arrived at Mare Island at 4:30 pm and helped get the patients into the respective wards.” (Lieutenant Ruth Erickson, NC, USN) In the following weeks, more wounded were convoyed to the mainland.
The Army Nurse Corps listed fewer than 1,000 nurses on its rolls on the day of the attack; 82 Army nurses were stationed in Hawai‘i serving at three Army medical facilities. (army-mil)
Navy Medicine was represented at Pearl Harbor by a naval hospital, a partially assembled mobile hospital and the USS Solace, the Navy’s newest hospital ship at the time. (DODlive-mil))
The Red Cross called the Nursing Service Bureau in Honolulu for volunteer nurses for the Hospital Ship and the Navy Hospital. Every call received was filled.
“During the three weeks following the attack, our nurses gave two-hundred and fifty-eight days of volunteer service 101-days by members of the Bureau and 157-days by non-members, who were nurses from the local hospitals on their days off, service wives and nurses who have been inactive for years.”
“Their cooperation and readiness to serve in this emergency is commendable. The following week, the Red Cross called us for 33 nurses to accompany the evacuee patients to the mainland. 19 returned and 14 remained on the Coast, they were mostly service wives, who were to be evacuated.”
“39 of our nurses are in the civilian Defense Units; 14 called into active service. (12 Army and 2 Navy) All nurses who accompanied the evacuees to the Mainland were paid by the American Red Cross.” (Margaret R. Rasmussen, RN, Director, Nursing Service Bureau)
Captain Hayden later wrote to Rasmussen noting, “I want to express to you a somewhat belated but sincere appreciation of the fine work done … since the air raid of December 7 by the nurses from your Registry.”
“The way in which they volunteered and their performance of duty showed them to be true followers of Florence Nightingale. I want to assure you and them …”
“… that their work here was deeply appreciated by all and especially by the patients who, without their services, could not have received the attention they did.” (Captain R Hayden to Margaret Rasmussen, Nursing Service Bureau, January 3, 1942)
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