Becoming a Merchant Mariner

SS George Gale

Leaving the SS George Gayle

Back Aboard the SS George Gayle

Return Voyage

Round Trip Run to Australia

First Mate

First Voyage as a Captain

Final Voyage

Postwar Career

Reflections

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Roger Shaw was born in New Orleans in 1921. He grew up and was educated in New Orleans. After graduating high school, he successfully passed an examination for entry into the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. Shaw’s first ship assignment was in May 1940 aboard the SS where he completed correspondence courses for the Cadet Corps while on voyages. The was owned by the Mississippi Shipping Company. Shaw had the opportunity to sail to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A visit to Rio had always been his dream. He accomplished this on his first voyage. During a two month voyage around South America, he developed appendicitis. He had to disembark his ship and stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina for surgery and recovery. Once he had recovered, he enjoyed the remainder of his stay. His next voyage was on the SS . Upon return to New Orleans on Christmas Eve, Shaw was granted a leave to take care of personal business. After the stay in New Orleans, he was assigned to the which was a new ship which travelled at 16 and a half knots. After Shaw’s second trip on the , he was transferred off because the ship was taken over by the army. Shaw then sailed aboard the SS , but was soon transferred to the navy training school in Algiers, Louisiana for three months. Shaw was billeted there with 16 men in a four room building that resembled a home more than a military facility. Although it was nice, military discipline could be stringent at times. While in training, Shaw and his mates would launch and row boats in the Mississippi River. He became an ensign in the United States Navy Reserve after completing his training. He was then assigned to the SS once again. It was during a voyage to South America that Shaw heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon hearing the word on the radio, Shaw carried the message to his superior officer. The captain questioned him on the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and sunk many American ships. At first, Shaw was reluctant to respond that he had heard that news for fear that it could be just another realistic program like the one in 1940 [Annotator’s Note: Actor and director Orson Welles created a panic in the American public in 1938 when he broadcasted a realistic version of H.G. Wells’ inspired The War of the Worlds over the radio which told of a fictitious invasion by Martian creatures. Shaw considered that what he had heard on 7 December 1941 might be another hoax broadcast.] Once the report was confirmed, the captain commented that America was going to experience what the British had been going through [Annotator’s Note: this is likely in reference to the German aerial bombardment of London and other cities in Britain during 1940 and 1941]. The was painted gray and when it returned to the United States, Shaw was told that he would be getting his license in short order. Following receipt of his Third Mate license [Annotator’s Note: a Third Mate on a merchant ship is generally in charge of watch standing and safety at sea and is often the fourth in command on the ship], Shaw was assigned to a ship under construction on the East Coast, the SS . The ship’s Captain and Shaw got along well. The ship was a C2 cargo ship and it was beautiful. Life at sea on the air conditioned ship was very nice. Unlike the ships, the C2 ship class was not intended to be sunk [Annotator’s Note: ships were built fast and to less stringent specifications then other merchant vessels. Speed and comfort levels were sacrificed on ships because the emphasis on mass production rather than sophistication]. Shaw experienced life on a ship on his next assignment.

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Roger Shaw was assigned to the [Annotator’s Note: SS ] on the Industrial Canal while it was still being completed by the shipyard. When they reached the Mississippi River after departing the shipyard, there was an escort ship to accompany them. When they reached the mouth of the river, they moored for three days. During that time, they heard a man in a lifeboat calling for help. Shaw thought that the man was just avoiding sailing on a mission like they were assigned. That had no idea of where they were headed. The first destination was Guantanamo Bay [Annotator’s Note: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba] where they stayed for a few days. Afterward, the headed to Panama where confusion reigned for awhile. After they went through the Panama Canal and reached the Pacific, they took on cargo which Shaw thought was lube oil. The ship sailed down the west coast of South America and reached Cape Horn. While sailing through the Horn, the waves were so high that accompanying ships would be lost from sight. After completing the trip, Shaw was told he could put his feet on the table with the other men who had accomplished the same feat. It was a sailing tradition that achieving that act was recognized by that luxury. In times of sailing ships, sailing around Cape Horn was much more difficult compared to being aboard a powered ship. The next stop was Cape Town, South Africa. After reaching there, Shaw had to have a root canal procedure performed by a local dentist. After departure from Cape Town, Shaw awoke when he noticed that the ship’s engines were not running. When he queried the mate, he was told that the crew had spotted a lifeboat with survivors, and the had stopped.  The lifeboat had eight to ten people aboard. They were in bad shape since they had been at sea in that boat for eight to ten days. The Third Mate in the boat was in charge, but he was very sick. That man used Shaw’s accommodations to recover. He was in such bad shape that Shaw gave him his bunk rather than his settee to recover. The lost ship had departed Aden, Arabia in route to Buenos Aires in South America when it had been sunk near Durbin, South Africa. Merchant seamen had a special concern about being torpedoed in the Indian Ocean, because it would have likely been a Japanese submarine that had fired upon them. The Japanese reputation was for being particularly mean. The reached Aden with the survivors. Shaw heard that the ships forward and aft of the had been sunk. After refueling, the sailed on to Port Sudan to unload. While there, Shaw and his mates were warned by a British major not to venture beyond the city because of the likelihood of robbery or worse. They took the major at his word. After departing Port Sudan, the ship sailed to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Here Shaw encountered an old friend and spent several days site seeing with him. It was a nice time. The cargo aboard the was destined for General Montgomery [Annotator’s Note: British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery]. The ship carried ammunition, gasoline, and other sundry items. Leaving the Suez, the ship returned to Aden where a cargo of oil was loaded. While they passed through the Indian Ocean, lifejackets were always kept handy. Access doors always had kick out panels to facilitate escape in case of enemy attack. Doors could become jarred or jammed after an explosion. A man could still get away by kicking out the emergency kick out panel on the door even if it was jammed. The , with its 24,000 mile sailing range, voyaged on to Durbin and then Cape Town. The ship then sailed on to Brazil.

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Roger Shaw arrived in Bahia, Brazil aboard the SS . He had met some associates previously in Bahia, but he discovered upon arrival that those individuals were no longer there. He spent time ashore with his shipmates. They had to be careful of the scam artists who attempted to bilk them. The rats in Bahia were the size of rabbits. After Brazil, the voyaged to Suriname in Dutch Guiana. The had to be pulled upriver stern first to load a cargo of bauxite. Bauxite is a component used in the manufacture of aluminum. After the ship was partially loaded, it travelled downriver to be further loaded from barges in a deeper part of the river. The ship next travelled to Trinidad, but it was discovered that Shaw’s face, wrists, and ankles were swollen from a fever he had contracted in Suriname. Shaw was removed from the ship and placed in a naval hospital for three days. After he recovered, the had left and Shaw was able to take a few days leave in Trinidad. He stayed in a hotel and had a good time. He could not go out on a ship so he was flown in a DC 3 [Annotator’s Note:  the civilian variant the C47 ] to Venezuela where the next day he was flown out on a Pan Am passenger seaplane that had a small second set of wings [Annotator’s Note: Boeing 314 ]. The seaplane flew Shaw to Cuba and then to Miami. In Miami, Shaw took a train to Jacksonville and then to New Orleans. He had a homecoming when he returned to New Orleans. He learned his mom had remarried a good man. It was a good return home. He began to study for his Second Mate’s license. Shaw learned he would return to the SS . He was pleased to be returning to the ship. The captain on the and Shaw had a good understanding between them until they returned from England.

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Roger Shaw returned to the SS after his leave in New Orleans, Louisiana. The was his original ship. It voyaged to Puerto Rico and then to Santiago, Cuba. While in Cuba, the took on a cargo of sugar then continued on to their next port of call, New York. There, Shaw had shore leave prior to the captain’s order for no leave. The ship was bound for Scotland and England through cold weather, but the merchant seamen were not provided appropriate cold weather gear. This was aggravating to Shaw since the navy personnel on the were given heavy weather clothing. Shaw did not understand this because he assisted on the aft five inch gun aboard the [Annotator’s Note: merchant ships were provided with weapons and navy personnel to man them for self defense as the war progressed]. The structure of the ship was such that it did not offer much in the way of wind protection for those on exterior watch. The ship joined a convoy which picked up more ships in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The voyage took ten or 12 days to Northern Ireland. The winds and currents were so strong that the ship made 16 knots. The next stop was Edinburgh, Scotland and then down the east coast of England in single file to London. While on the last leg of the voyage, RAF [Annotator’s Note: British Royal Air Force] aircraft harassed the convoy. This simulated air attack was done to prepare the sailors for what they might expect with a real enemy attack. It was alarming to Shaw until he saw the British insignia on the airplanes. Upon arrival at London, the was moored at the East Indian Locks. Shaw acquired road and subway maps and became a tourist. Not only did he see the traditional famous sites, but he also became acquainted with a female officer in the British armed forces. She sewed him socks to help with his passage through cold weather. The British people were wonderful to Shaw. They freely shared with the merchant seamen because those sailors helped bring food to the British civilians. Those English civilians preferred the Merchant Marine sailors to those in the navy. Shaw recognized that the British stood up to Hitler by themselves. Evidence of the German bombing of England was still obvious while Shaw toured London. Shaw experienced an enemy bombing once while he was aboard the in London. The merchant seamen received a premium of 30 percent if they carried ammunition. The premium was paid because of the great risk of total ship and personnel destruction if the enemy succeeded in hitting them. While on watch on the another time, Shaw brought some English children aboard and shared some treats with them. They had never had an orange or ice cream. It was against company rules to bring the youngsters aboard, but it was worth the risk to see the reactions of those young people when they first tried an orange and ate ice cream for the first time. The United States was very fortunate to have not been affected by rationing any more than what was experienced.

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Roger Shaw returned to the United States by way of Northern Ireland. The SS sailed alone before reaching Ireland. Shaw’s ship joined a convoy at that point. No icebergs were spotted returning to America though some were seen on the trip to England. Visibility was poor and Shaw always kept the sea buoys in sight while he was on watch. Some of the other watch standers were not so vigilant. This was disconcerting to Shaw when he relieved them from their watch and had to establish a visual contact on the buoys again. After reaching New York, Shaw left the SS and joined the crew of the . The was not as good a ship as a ship. Although he liked the ship’s captain, Shaw could not get off the quick enough. The ship made two trips to England. He saw his female friend and they pledged to get married, but Shaw never returned to England. Upon returning to the United States, Shaw was 22 years old. He went up for his Chief Mate’s license. Afterward, he travelled by air to Panama aboard the latest flying boat, the . The was a very comfortable way to travel. The passengers did not want to land. After he arrived in Panama, Shaw took a beautiful train ride to his new ship [Annotator’s Note:  Shaw cannot recollect the name of the new ship]. Shaw spotted the and his former captain and recognized them with the ship’s flags as they proceeded to his next destination, Australia. The voyage to Sydney, Australia was beautiful. The sight of the albatross birds circling the ship and the phosphorus in the wake of the ship was very nice. In Sydney, Shaw became a tourist. After departure, the ship sailed to Townsville, Australia. While in Townsville, the only dance hall was the enlisted men’s club. Removing his officer’s indications, Shaw attempted to enter the club. He was spotted by four men who threatened him. They recognized his rank because of the cut of his uniform. It was an officer’s uniform. He left before getting into a fight. Sailing from Australia to Hawaii, he only spent a few hours in Pearl Harbor before his ship sailed to San Francisco. While sailing in the Pacific, there was limited worry about Japanese submarines, because the enemy subs did not concentrate on merchant ships. There was some concern about enemy raider surface ships, but Shaw did not come in contact with any. Upon arrival in the United States, Shaw flew to Pasadena and then on to several layovers en route to New Orleans. During the trip, he learned of the Normandy, France D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944. At that same layover in Shreveport, Louisiana, he had to finish his journey by taking a train to New Orleans because his aircraft had lost an engine. Upon arriving in New Orleans, he felt good. It was nice to be home again.

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Roger Shaw was 22 years old when he returned to the United States. When he got back to the United States, he went up for his Chief Mate’s license. Afterward, he travelled by air to Panama aboard the latest flying boat, the . The was a very comfortable way to travel. The passengers did not want to land. After he arrived in Panama, Shaw took a beautiful train ride to his new ship [Annotator’s Note:  Shaw cannot recollect the name of the new ship]. Shaw spotted the and his former captain and recognized them with the ship’s flags as they proceeded to his next destination, Australia. The voyage to Sydney, Australia was beautiful. The sight of the albatross birds circling the ship and the phosphorus in the wake of the ship was very nice. In Sydney, Shaw became a tourist. After departure, the ship sailed to Townsville, Australia. While in Townsville, the only dance hall was the enlisted men’s club. Removing his officer’s indications, Shaw attempted to enter the club. He was spotted by four men who threatened him. They recognized his rank because of the cut of his uniform. It was an officer’s uniform. He left before getting into a fight. Sailing from Australia to Hawaii, he only spent a few hours in Pearl Harbor before his ship sailed to San Francisco. While sailing in the Pacific, there was limited worry about Japanese submarines, because the enemy subs did not concentrate on merchant ships. There was some concern about enemy raider surface ships, but Shaw did not come in contact with any. Upon arrival in the United States, Shaw flew to Pasadena and then on to several layovers en route to New Orleans. During the trip, he learned of the Normandy, France D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944. At that same layover in Shreveport, Louisiana, he had to finish his journey by taking a train to New Orleans because his aircraft had lost an engine. Upon arriving in New Orleans, he felt good. It was nice to be home again.

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Roger Shaw wanted to ship out on a vessel that traversed the Mississippi River frequently. This would better enable him to acquire his bar pilot’s license. He did get his chief mate’s license [Annotator’s Note: chief mate and first mate are synonymous] while assigned to a voyage from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama. After that trip, Shaw boarded the MV . It was a very nice vessel with especially comfortable accommodations for the chief mate. It was not only a good ship, but he got along well with its captain. The ship made multiple runs through the Caribbean and back to the United States. Various cargos were carried. At times, sugar might be the cargo, but then bombs might be loaded on deck at other times. On one voyage, the ship carried a load of 100 pound bombs through the Panama Canal. With the many delays associated with the canal transit through the locks, Shaw was extremely fatigued by the time the cargo reached the Pacific side. After being awake for over 30 hours, he was ready to fall asleep. When two army officers came aboard looking for the chief mate, Shaw gave them the brush off. When the officers discovered that Shaw was the chief mate, they were not happy. Nevertheless, the bombs where offloaded and the ship returned to the Caribbean side of the canal. There were multiple other trips throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. On one trip to Cuba, Shaw was given several cases of rum which he ultimately shipped home in a special container after he reached Baltimore. When the ship was in New Orleans, Shaw and his Captain would venture around the city together. They were good chums and enjoyed each other’s company. The next voyage was to New York. This was at the time that a Port Convention was going on in New York. One of Shaw’s relatives was an important individual at the Convention. The family arranged to get together for that occasion and have somewhat of a reunion. It was a good time. Shaw left that ship in order to acquire his master’s license [Annotator’s Note: a master mariner serves as the captain of a ship].

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Roger Shaw made a big mistake in his first opportunity as a ship’s captain. He was assigned to an army transport and the rules and disciplines for that assignment were much different than those to which he was accustomed. The ship was a beautiful ship with twin screws [Annotator’s Note: propellers] and it handled very well. The ship had been built at Higgins [Annotator’s Note: Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana]. It was to be a repair ship for B-29s [Annotator’s Note: Boeing B-29 ] and was bound for Iwo Jima. The idea of the ship’s mission was not acceptable to Shaw. He sailed the ship with its complement of sailors plus army personnel down through the Panama Canal. On the Pacific side of the canal, Shaw launched his gig [Annotator’s Note: nautical term for a small boat carried aboard a larger ship used as a taxi for the captain] with a crew of his sailors and two army officers. En route to the nearest city, Shaw noticed a communicated message aimed at him and his vessel. It told him that they were transiting a mine field. Everyone went silent. The ship moved slowly so as not to draw too much water. With a few prayers and a light draft, the little boat managed to reach safety. Shaw knew that he wanted to change to a different ship than his army transport. The ship was too small, the army discipline was different from what he was comfortable with, and the captain’s job was to be a chauffeur for the army officer in charge of the ship. Shaw wanted to master his own ship sp he sought another vessel to command.

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Roger Shaw boarded another ship after his assignment as captain of the army transport. The ship had a radio operator off another ship that had been torpedoed. During that action, as told by the radioman, the merchant seamen could see the German submarine surface and prepare to shoot their deck gun and machine guns. The survivors thought they would be shot. Instead, the enemy submarine commander offered to aid the wounded in the lifeboat. He also suggested that the survivors in the lifeboat pick up two more of their comrades that were swimming toward them. The only caveat made by the u-boat [Annotators Note: the German term for submarine is unterseeboot, or u-boat for short] captain was that if an Allied airplane or ship appeared, the merchant seamen onboard the submarine would be taking a trip to Germany. Nevertheless, several of the severely wounded took the enemy captain’s offer. The merchant ship was sunk by the submarine’s deck gun to save a torpedo. The enemy captain joked and laughed with the survivors about rendezvousing in several months so they could do the action again. Apparently, the captain was not a devoted follower of Hitler because there were no swastikas on the German u-boat. It only had the German eagles showing on the u-boat instead of the Nazi swastika. After his return voyage to New Orleans from San Francisco on the MV , Shaw found that all the other ship captain positions were full so he had to return to the rank of chief mate on his next assignment. He had to go to New York to catch the next ship. He sailed to South America with a highly insured cargo. He enjoyed his leave in Montevideo, Uruguay.  From there, his ship sailed to Bahia Blanco, Argentina to load grain destined for Belgium. Halfway through that voyage, his second mate came to him and reported that the war was over. He told Shaw that bombs were dropped on them [Annotator’s Note: the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] and the war was over. The cargo was unloaded in Antwerp. Shaw saw a colleague he knew there. The friend was a captain on another ship. He had a souvenir set of fine German binoculars which he gave to Shaw. Shaw used those binoculars in sailing to five continents. Shaw’s ship was loaded with German equipment for the return to the United States. One of the items was a German Tiger tank [Annotators Note: German Mark VI main battle tank, also known as the Tiger] which had been hit with an Allied round that had dug into it but bounced off without penetrating it. Shaw became a doctor later in life and one of his patients was a former German panzer [Annotators Note: panzer is the German word for tank] commander who was still angry about the war. He felt he could take on any Allied tank, but he could not take on fifty. Shaw’s response was that his country should not have picked on a country that could produced far more than his country could. One of Shaw’s best friends was a German immigrant who was related to Keitel [Annotator’s Note: Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel]. There was concern about that individual serving in war industry, but Shaw knew that most of the patents for the company in question were developed by that individual [Annotator’s Note:  no specifics are given in this circumstance].

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Roger Shaw decided to be a doctor after his service because he wanted more education. He quickly finished his premedical education. Everything was so rushed and crowded at Louisiana College that he decided it was time to go to work. Medical school was very crowded. People were returning from service in large numbers. It even looked like he was about to be drafted, but he and his wife had their first child and fathers were not being drafted. He decided to go to optometrist school. Many of his descendents have followed his path. They liked what they saw about Shaw’s lifestyle. Shaw’s transition to civilian life was very quick. He knew what he wanted to do with his life and moved out to achieve those goals. He had taken a course at Louisiana College in speech. It was an extra course, but he thought it would help him down the line. He also signed up for a course in the Civil War and other extra areas of study. He was told he was taking too many hours, but he was on the Dean’s List. That extra course load was curtailed after his junior year in college. He was given credit for physical education with his Merchant Marine service. He also got credit for algebra for his education in the Merchant Marine. He even substituted for his teacher in one class. Shaw learned to fly and has 4,000 hours in the air flying through the Americas. He met his second wife at a cocktail party after they were introduced by the host. Shaw and the young lady began to talk about sailing around the world. She wanted someone to sail her around the world. Shaw volunteered to do so. He thought it was just party talk, and that he would never see that little girl again. As it turned out, they married and have been together for 40 years. 

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Roger Shaw was changed by World War 2. The war changed the world. Shaw had never been on a boat before, and that was a major experience. He saw sailors hurt onboard the ships. The language used by merchant seamen was course. It was unlike anything he had ever been exposed to as a youth. Although there was some alcohol abuse onboard the ship, Shaw never did so himself because of the potential for injury. He learned to try to be smart about what he did. He admired Ben Carson [Annotator’s Note: Ben Carson was a Republican presidential candidate at the time of Shaw’s interview] for his intellect. During the war, he did the best he could to contribute to the success of the war effort. He saw things he did not want to talk about. He saw African children raised in harsh environments. The people were beautiful, but their circumstances were very hard. Shaw always admired Winston Churchill. He never saw Churchill during the war, but he would like to have met him. Shaw is skeptical that people today could handle the hardships of 1929 and 1930 [Annotator’s Note: the dates are the start of the Great Depression]. It would be chaos with a Great Depression again. Shaw did caveat that if our country would be attacked, the populace would line up to defend the country and become another Greatest Generation. Shaw approves of what The National World War II Museum is doing. It is especially meaningful since it recognizes the Merchant Marine. He has spoken on the value of the Merchant Marine in World War 2. In that talk, he traces the service from its inception. He points out the significance of the Merchant Marine to D-Day on 6 June 1944. They helped provide crew service on some of the 2700 ships that participated in the invasion. Some of the old merchant ships were sunk to provide for temporary harbors. Shaw hoped the was one of them. Future generations should be educated in the history of the Second World War. They need to know the significance of the atomic bombs ending the war to end all wars. There is always the threat of someone using the atomic bombs and unleashing a chain reaction that might end the world. Science and technology has served man well in terms of space travel. It took some real engineering to go to the moon. Shaw would like to see man make the trip to Mars. In closing, Shaw remembered hearing of an incident that involved a Japanese submarine sinking a British ship with 130 people onboard just south of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. The survivors were picked up only to be victims of Japanese bayonet practice while on the submarine. When an Allied aircraft flew overhead, the Japanese submarine submerged, and only 20 of the people from the sunken ship survived. Shaw opined that Admiral King [Annotators Note: U.S. Navy Admiral Ernest J. King] really let the merchant ships down when he said that they could run without convoy. Shaw lost several good friends. Shaw was one of 16 trainees at that Naval Station. One of them was thought to be the first killed in the Merchant Marine. It was later found that another ship was sunk before his friend’s ship. Shaw views the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York second only to West Point in terms of beauty. 

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