A Hero’s Tale: Remembering a Catholic Captain Who Gave All in World War II
BOOK PICK: ‘Elwood’
THE STORY OF A CATHOLIC WORLD WAR II HERO
By Sister Lucia Treanor, FSE
Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2021
176 pages, $17.95
To order: orderosv.com or (800) 348-2440
Elwood J. Euart was a 28-year-old Army captain from Rhode Island who gave his life while rescuing others from a sinking ship in 1942 in what is now the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
When the ship went down, he went with it.
His remains were not recovered until 2016, almost 75 years after his death.
His second cousin has documented the story of his life, another of the almost-gone “Greatest Generation” that came to maturity amidst the Great Depression and World War II.
Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Lucia Treanor’s account in Elwood shows how.
“In Captain Euart’s life, there were ordinary and extraordinary gifts, but even the ordinary are extraordinary in the grand scheme of things:
the joy of a loving, faith-filled family
the loyalty of a youthful friend
the consistent moral guidance
the dependence of a special-needs sister
the leadership training of the Boy Scouts of America
the gift of poverty
the dignity of work
the necessity of waiting
the sorrow of a lost love
the mature friendship of fraternity brothers
the horror of a catastrophe
the discipline of the Rhode Island National Guard
the bonding of military buddies
and the model of a holy priest.”
In many ways, his story was the story of many: a working-class family struggling in the Depression; a sibling with special needs; deferred dreams of college; the blow of the 1938 hurricane that devastated New England; the outbreak of war. In the middle of all that, Elwood’s character was being forged for an October day inside a ship far from Rhode Island.
We sometimes forget just how dangerous it was even getting to battle in World War II. Euart and the 5,000-some men aboard the SS President Coolidge were aboard a transport ferrying them to the Pacific island-hopping campaign.
Last year, The Immortals described the SS Dorchester, a Europe-bound troop transport torpedoed on a midwinter’s night off the Greenlandic coast. The difference was the Dorchester was attacked by a German submarine; the Coolidge, which did not receive navigational assistance, hit an American mine laid to keep the Japanese out of port.
In the context of World War II, Adm. Chester Nimitz spoke of “uncommon valor [as] … a common virtue.” The Dorchester’s chaplains died by giving up opportunities to enable other men to be rescued. The Coolidge was near harbor.
Capt. Euart was on his way off ship when he remembered the men in the infirmary who might not have been able to evacuate on their own. He voluntarily went below deck and retrieved them. They were saved. He was the last man. His strength was spent when the ship suddenly listed and went down. Euart was still onboard, unable to detach from the rescue rope by which he saved the others. The postscript chronicles how Vanuatu divers, who honored the fallen sailor for seven decades, at last were able to locate his bones in the wreckage, finally affording him a resting place at home, next to his parents.
The young man’s bravery lives on in the memory of those who knew him and in the tribute of Elwood.
Also recounted in the book: Father Robert Marciano, speaking at his burial Mass in 2016, summed up the faith that drove Euart: “a Catholic faith that he cherished and nourished and loved, attending Mass every day on that ship, worshipping a God whose only Son mounted … the cross of Calvary and bowed his head in death so that he could destroy death forever. … How many times had Capt. Euart … gazed upon a crucifix in his brief life and thought of that? And that as he lowered himself down, tethered to a rope that day, deep into a sinking ship to save others, how Our Blessed Lord must have smiled to see that so many centuries later, brave souls have heard His message and were ready to follow Him so that others might live.”
As he cousin also writes, “Life in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in college, and in the military had taught him the important lessons in life. He was known by his fellows to be punctual, diligent, and religious. Because he loved his men, he recognized that he had to do what needed to be done to save them in an emergency. His strong faith, nurtured throughout a lifetime, provided the grace to persist in the face of grave danger, so — even though it is certain that he hoped to survive the disaster — he first had to be sure that others did. His is a story of love, service, and human dignity.”
Capt. Euart was a friend, the kind who could display no greater love (John 15:13).
The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress seeks to document for posterity the stories of America’s fighting men and women before they are lost. For information on how this Memorial Day you can memorialize a local veteran through an oral history project, click here.