Ross E. O'Laughlin Jr.


I had the distinct pleasure of working with the O’Laughlin family on Ross’ biography, and specifically with Ross’ son-in-law, Captain S. Wallace (aka Wally) Slough, a Master Mariner himself.

It has been a wonderful collaboration and we have been able to help each other fill in some of the blanks on each other’s research. It was Wally that was such a huge help in telling about Ohioan’s 2nd Mate Joe Spelker’s post-war career at Red Stack.

Ross was a well known and respected Master Mariner, not only in his home base of San Francisco, but beyond. In the process of my research, when I’ve connected with American-Hawaiian veterans, his is one of the names that comes up.

Ross saw plenty of action during the war, and had some close calls. He survived independent sailings around Africa to the Indian Ocean, convoys to North Africa, the U.K and Murmansk and the final push in the Pacific.

His story was one the main inspirations for my adding the new Masters, Mates and Pilots section to the website. It is only fitting that he be the first, of what I hope will be many biographies I add.

Early Life

Ross Elliot O’Laughlin Jr. was born September 4th, 1918 in Waukegan, Illinois. He was the first born son of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Ross E. O’Laughlin Sr. (1892-1947) and Tressie M. Walker (1899-1983). His younger siblings were Helen (1920-1968) and Burton (1922-2005), both born after the family moved to California.

Ross E. O'Laughlin Jr. circa 1942, age 24. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family. All Rights Reserved.

In 1925 the entire family arrived back in San Francisco aboard the SS Ventura from Honolulu Hawaii. The SS Ventura was one of three ships Matson had at this time running to Hawaii and on to Australia; the others being Sierra and Sonoma. According to Wally:

Ross’ father was stationed in Hawaii when Ross was a young boy. He became a very proficient swimmer in Hawaii, and this plus his father’s profession in the Navy must have influenced him as a boy growing up. His Dad was then stationed in San Pedro which is a busy port. Ross also insisted on teaching all of his children to swim, and was a strong swimmer all his life.

Ross grew up in California, and after graduating High School, entered the California Nautical School on September 29th, 1936. The school was fairly new; its first class had only started in March of 1931. Up until this time the only schools specializing in the training of Merchant Mariners were on the East Coast in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The school struggled with State funding the first several years, but the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 finally provided Federal funding and stability.

Unlike the East Coast schools, where training was done on a sailing vessel, Ross and his classmates lived and trained on a more modern vessel, the TS California State.

The California State was originally an Emergency Fleet Corporation Design 1099, which was a standard small Great Lakes built steel freighter. It was one of the more popular EFC designs, and 91 vessels of this type were made between July of 1919 and October of 1920 at eight different yards.

EFC Design 1099 original configuration. Photo courtesy of Capt. Stephen S. Roberts at

Hull number 1823 was originally laid down at American Shipbuilding Company’s Lorain, OH Yard No. 771 on June 14th, 1919 as Lake Fellowship, but prior to launching on October 18th, 1919 her name was changed to Henry County. She was completed and placed in service in November of 1919, and from information I was able to find on, sailed from Cleveland, OH and arrived in New York on May 18, 1920. She was too late for the war effort, but her records indicate she made at least two trans-Atlantic voyages to France and the Azores in 1920 before she was placed out of service in the mid-1920s, and laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet under the custody of the US Shipping Board.

This photo shows Ross as a Third Classman while at the California Nautical School. His friend is named Nero and is believed to be the family pet at the time. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family. All Rights Reserved.

There she sat until commissioned as the USS Henry County on May 27th, 1930, at Portsmouth, VA., Commander B.V. McCandlish in command. She was decommissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard in California on August 22nd, 1930 and loaned to the State of California the same day. She began her conversion to a school ship which transformed her holds into berths for the cadets and was finally renamed TS California State on January 23rd, 1931.

According to Wally:

"When Ross was in the schoolship, the cruises were of longer duration (5 months).

On the first cruise, they went to Tahiti, Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Fiji, Samoa, Honolulu, and back to San Francisco.

On the second cruise, they went to Honolulu, Lahaina, Honolulu, Acapulco, San Diego, and back to San Francisco.

On the third cruise, they went to San Diego, La Union, Balboa, Callao, Valparaiso, Manzanillo, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, and back to San Francisco."

I was able to find a crew list for 1937 that showed they arrived at Honolulu, HI from Pago Pago, Samoa on February 23rd, 1937. The TS California State’s officers, crew and cadets on the 1937 cruise consisted of:

The T.S. California State in front of the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on their 1937 training cruise. Courtesy of The Campus History Collection at The California Maritime Academy.

Ross graduated at an ominous time though, right on the eve of World War II, on June 16th, 1939. The German’s would invade Poland in less than three months. According to Wally:

Ross’ was the last class to graduate from the California Nautical School, and the school’s name was officially changed to the California Maritime Academy on October 10th, 1939”.

American-Hawaiian Service

SS Alabaman

Upon graduation he was hired by the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company as a Junior Third Mate and his first assignment was the SS Alabaman (Master unknown). Regular visitors to the site will recognize Alabaman as the sister ship of the Arkansan, so much of her history is covered on the Arkansan Info page.

SS Alabaman April 3rd, 1939. Francis Palmer photographer. From the private collection of artist Dave Boone, Copyright (c), All Rights Reserved.

The following is a detailed list of Ross' Alabaman sailings put together by Wally:

Note that all his sailings were either normal intercoastal or coastwise pre-war American-Hawaiian routes. He made Third Mate by the time of his last voyage on Alabaman.

SS Kansan

In July of 1940 he transferred to the SS Kansan under Master Orrick Rogers, although he went back to the Jr. 3rd Mates position for their first seven voyages together.

SS Kansan July 8th, 1932 in New York. Francis Palmer photographer. From the private collection of artist Dave Boone, Copyright (c), All Rights Reserved.

The Kansan was a pre-United States Shipping Board design built for W.R. Grace by William Cramp and Sons Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia, PA and launched in 1918. She was immediately acquired by the Navy on completion and commissioned as the USS Santa Olivia (ID 3125) on July 1st, 1918 at Philadelphia. An interesting bit of trivia is that according to NavSource Online: “Future movie star Humphrey Bogart served in Santa Olivia as a Coxswain, February 1919 - 18 June 1919.

She was decommissioned from Navy service on July 21st, 1919 at Brooklyn, NY and returned to W.R. Grace as the SS Santa Olivia. When Grace lost the bid for the Pacific Mail “President Ships” in the early ‘20’s, Santa Olivia was sold to American-Hawaiian and renamed Kansan to replace her namesake that was lost in World War I.

In 1946, Kansan was sold to the Star Line of Panama and renamed Jackstar. She was eventually scrapped in 1955.

Kansan was a cousin if not sister of two other former Grace Line vessels that ended up in American-Hawaiian’s fleet, the American lost on June 11th, 1942 in the Caribbean and Montanan lost on June 3rd, 1943 in the Arabian Sea.

The following is a detailed list of Ross’ sailings on Kansan that Wally put together:

Here again you’ll note the bulk of his voyages were still the typical intercoastal and coastwise voyages of American-Hawaiian’s pre-war era.

His last voyage, however, while he was serving as Third Mate must have been chartered by the British similar to what happened to the Arkansan and others. This was a foreign voyage. They sailed from New York on August 5th, 1941, arrived in Port Said, Egypt around October 11th, 1941 (note: a month after Arkansan was bombed in Egypt), and then headed to Calcutta, India. On December 4th, 1941, just three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor that would officially drag America into the war, they left Cape Town, South Africa. German U-boats were extremely active in the Atlantic at this time, and although unarmed and unescorted, Kansan made it safely back to New York on New Year’s Day, 1942.

Of the crew of the SS Kansan on this voyage, Second Mate Harry McGahan was the son of Charles McGahan later lost as Master of the Montanan in 1943 and Chief Mate Powers had a pretty close call as Master of the Liberty Ship Stephen Johnson Field off New Guinea in 1944.

SS Georgian

In February of 1942 Ross transferred to the SS Georgian under Master Fred Gaidsick.

The SS Georgian was originally launched as Cajacet for the US Shipping Board. She was an Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) Design 1018 known as a "SUN" type. She was one of five ships built to this design by Sun Shipbuidling and Drydock Company in Chester, PA. She was built in Yard 16 and completed in February of 1920

Cajacet and her sister Conshohocken were bought by Williams Steamship Co. in 1921and renamed Willsolo and Willhilo respectively. When American-Hawaiian absorbed Williams in the late twenties for their Southeastern US and Puerto Rican service the vessels were renamed Georgian and Arizonan respectively in 1929.

Georgian and Arizonan both survived the war and were sold off in 1946. Georgian was sold to Nortuna and sailed under a Panamanian flag as Norlanda. Ownership appears to have been transferred to the Italian firm Import Carboni in 1950 and then to the Greek company Ismene in 1957. Sold for scrap in 1958, she was eventually broken up in the Netherlands in 1959 by Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht.

SS Georgian on October 25th, 1937. Francis Palmer photographer. From the private collection of artist Dave Boone, Copyright (c), All Rights Reserved.

The following is another detailed list of sailings put together by Wally:

As you can see they immediately made a substantial foreign voyage across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, and then made a couple of stops in Chile on their way back. They transited the Panama Canal into the Caribbean in early May, just at the time when U-Boats were starting to really heat things up there. Most of American-Hawaiian’s early losses happened in this region around this time. In May Texan was lost off Cuba, Ohioan off Florida and Colabee was damaged off Haiti. In June American would be lost off Honduras and Bernard’s Arkansan off Grenada.

They arrived safely in Pensacola Florida on May 18th, 1942. Fate would step in and the Georgian was sent to Mobile Alabama for an overhaul and likely to have her armament added.

There, Ross would meet a lovely clerk that worked in the shipping office named Miss Soule' Perry. According to the family:

Sue [as she goes by] was working as a clerk at the shipping office which was located on Pinto Island in Mobile Bay. Ross’ ship came in and docked at the shipyard on Pinto Island, and Sue says they met on the ferry that ran from Pinto Island to Mobile. They dated while Ross’ ship was in the yard and attended many dances at the local USO. This was a dangerous time for shipping according to Sue, and ships would limp into the yard with heavy damage from the U-boats lurking off shore. Sue also recalled that there was an alert issued for supposed German Spies that had been put ashore by a U-boat, but nothing materialized.

Sue’s sister Veva had just graduated from High School, and she moved down to Mobile and the girls had an apartment in town. Veva thought Ross was the perfect mate for Sue, and wanted him in the family. When Ross’ ship was preparing to sail to New Orleans, he asked for Sue’s hand in marriage, but she refused as she felt they hadn’t known each other long enough. Ross got Veva aside and asked her to lobby Sue to accept his proposal, which Veva did."

"Ross sailed the Georgian around to New Orleans, and at that point asked Chief Mate George Melanson for permission to return to Mobile and ask again for Sue’s hand. George felt that if Ross to married Sue, it would ruin his career with AH and denied permission. As we all know, Ross went anyway and this time Sue accepted when he arrived in Mobile. George then wanted to have Ross fired, but Captain Gaidsick wouldn’t allow it. Despite that, George and Ross were lifelong friends." George eventually married as well and named one of his sons Ross. As another American-Hawaiian officer that survived the war unscathed I hope to profile George at some point.

Ross and Sue in Mobile, AL shortly before they were married in 1942. Photo courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family. All Rights Reserved.

Sue and Ross were married in Mobile on July 1, 1942, and both came to New Orleans for their honeymoon. Captain Gaidsick had a party on board the ship for the newlyweds. The Georgian sailed on July 12, and wouldn’t return to the U.S. for 7 ½ months.

A humorous story the family related to me about Ross’ time aboard the Georgian during this period involved a really nice Plath Sextant that Master Fred Gaidsick had. As the story goes;

Ships were being sunk by the U-boats in the Caribbean with impunity, and Captain Gaidsick didn’t think they would make the passage safely. He proceeded to sell his sextant to Ross for $100, and made sure that young Ross was assigned to his lifeboat as he knew the young man would surely bring his new sextant into the lifeboat. That way he wouldn’t have to run to retrieve his beautiful sextant in the event they were torpedoed.

Fortunately, they weren’t torpedoed, so Captain Gaidsick tried to buy his sextant back from the young 2nd Mate. Ross refused to sell it, and Sue still has the sextant to this day. Fred Gaidsick and Ross and their families became lifelong friends.

The C. Plath Sextant that was sold to Ross by Captain Gaidsick. The label in the box notes the sextant was certified in Hamburg, Germany on December 5th, 1925. Images courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family. All Rights Reserved.

Furthermore, as Wally was reviewing the rest of my website, he came across Larz Neilson’s photo of Fred Gaidsick earlier in his career aboard the Coloradan using his Plath sextant to take a noontime sighting with a group of junior American-Hawaiian officers. See here for a photo of the sextant in use by Gaidsick (third image down).

Another wonderful story Wally related was that after the marriage in New Orleans:

Sue returned to her job in Mobile, but soon realized that she was pregnant. Sometime before their son Steve was born, but prior to Ross’ arrival back home, she rented a small two bedroom house in Selma Alabama as the first home for the newlyweds. Sue’s mother found a black woman named Miss Lucille to come and live with Sue and help her with the baby. The two women would listen to the radio in the evening, and the announcer Gabriel Heatter would come on the air and say “there’s sad news tonight.” The Wiki article speaks to his sign on being “there’s good news tonight”, but Sue definitely recalls “there’s sad news tonight.” As this was very early in the war when there wasn’t much good news, I wouldn’t doubt that Sue is correct. Sue knew that Ross was in the thick of it, and would become emotional and start to cry. Miss Lucille would say, “Sugar, don’t you worry, that boy he’s coming back home Miss Sue”.

"Another story Sue told me about Miss Lucille was that Sue’s Aunt Bernice who also lived in Selma told her that she couldn’t have a black woman living in her home as the neighbors would talk. Sue’s response was that she didn’t really care what her neighbors said, and she didn’t much like them anyway. She had two bedrooms, and Miss Lucille could have one and she’d have the other. Sue’s strong personality hasn’t changed much over the years!

Ross left the SS Georgian on March 1st, 1943, and arrived back home in Selma in time for the birth of his first son Steve.

Wally pointed out it’s interesting how the careers of the shipmates on the SS Georgian progressed:

    • Captain Fred Gaidsick became a San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war.

    • Chief Mate George Melanson became a Red Stack Captain and San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war

    • Second Mate Ross O’Laughlin became a Red Stack Captain and San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war

    • Purser Frank Davis became a dispatcher for the San Francisco Bar Pilots after the war

SS Floridian

In April of 1943 Ross was transferred to the SS Floridian as Chief Mate under Master George Grundy. Floridian was another sister of Arkansan and Alabaman. Much of her history is covered on the Arkansan Info page.

SS Floridian circa 1930's. Francis Palmer photographer. From the private collection of artist Dave Boone, Copyright (c), All Rights Reserved.

Ross was on Floridian for only one voyage, and it was part of the post-invasion resupply for the Operation Torch allied landings in North Africa which had occurred in November of 1942.

On May 14th, 1943 they departed New York and joined Convoy UGS-8A in Hampton Roads bound for Tripoli, Libya. The eastbound UGS-8A designation stood for United States to Gibralter, Slow [8 knots or less], 8 made it the eighth such convoy. The Convoy was huge and consisted of 82 merchants and 28 escorts. As they approached Africa they joined Convoy KMS-15 (U.K. to Mediterranean, Slow, 15th convoy), a 47 vessel convoy on June 2nd.

Floridian arrived safely at Bone, Algeria on June 5th and departed about two weeks later on June 18th, 1943 as part of Convoy GUS-8A. They arrived safely back in New York on July 11th, 1943.

According to Wally:

After Ross left the SS Floridian in New York on July 12, 1943 and came home to Selma, he wouldn’t go back to sea until October 26, 1943. While this was his longest leave from shipping during the war, it wasn’t much of a vacation as he was attending school in New Orleans to prepare for his Master’s License. He’d take the bus home to Selma on the weekends to be with his young family. He sat for and attained his original Master’s License on September 2, 1943 in New Orleans at the young age of 24. He turned 25 two days later on September 4th; quite a birthday present and an amazing accomplishment for a young man! I got mine shortly before I turned 26 (but still 25!!) and thought I’d done quite well. Ross was obviously a hard act to follow.

SS Philip Livingston

In October of 1943 Ross joined the SS Philip Livingston as Chief Mate under Masters David L. Bennett (who survived the Oregonian in September of ‘42) and later William B. Slater.

Philip Livingston was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by Oregon Ship Building Corporation in Portland, OR. She was named after the New York merchant and statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Philip Livingston was the first Liberty ship delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on March 7th, 1942. She took 232 days to build (156 days on way and 76 days on dock) at a cost of $1,431,573.00. She survived the war but was immediately retired from operations and laid up as part of the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia on October 16th, 1945.

Ownership was transferred briefly to Dichmann Wright & Pugh Co. in August of 1947, then sold under the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946 to the foreign Rederi A/S Nidaros and renamed Nidardal under a Norwegian flag and registry. She grounded in the Inland Sea of Japan as the SS Donghae under Korean Flag on May 4th, 1967. Declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL), she was towed to Pusan, Korea and scrapped in January of 1969.

Once again, Wally has put together a detailed list of voyages for Ross:

You’ll note from the list of voyages that the Philip Livingston had departed Kola Inlet as part of Convoy RA-56 on February 3rd, 1944, but arrived back at Kola Inlet on the 11th. Neither Wally or I initially knew what to make of this, but then we found the wonderful Halcyon Class Minesweepers and Survey Ships of World War Two website which includes transcripts of actual reports, one of which stated: "RA 56 sailed as one convoy of 39 ships on the 3rd February, ships which could not maintain 9 ½ knots being excluded. At the conference the Senior Officer of the Escort (Captain D3) warned Masters that if in the first 24 hours there were any stragglers they would be sent back when the local escort parted company. This was the largest convoy sailed from the Kola Inlet, nevertheless it took far too long getting out of harbour - 3 ¾ hours. Enquiries showed that this delay was in part at any rate due to a Russian pilot not allowing ships with pilots junior to himself to pass his ship which he was taking out very slowly. This is something quite novel in rank consciousness, also very stupid, and it is to be hoped that as a result of the representations made it will not be repeated. Some confusion may have also occurred over the time being kept, it having been the practice to put clocks back to BST on the Commodore passing Toros Island. This will be done in future after the convoy has sailed.

True to his word Captain D sent back two stragglers on the 4th February, the SS Empire Pickwick and the USS Philip Livingstone [sic], both protesting by signal and later, in the case of Empire Pickwick, on paper, the Master demanding an enquiry. He appeared to consider that he was made an example of and had been unfairly treated. The escort evidently held other views. This convoy arrived intact and from the absence of any signals, presumably got through without any incident. A last minute diversion to the eastward ordered by the Admiralty, evidently achieved its object of dodging some U-boats patrolling about a hundred miles north of Kola Inlet near the original route."

This would seem to indicate that both vessels were ordered to turn around and go back with the Russian escorts because they were not able to maintain the 9 1/2 knots. Whether that was because of mechanical issues, load, weather, or some combination thereof is unknown.

Whatever the issue was, they seem to have taken care of it by the time the next convoy, RA-57, and sailed from Kola Inlet on March 2nd, 1944.

Ross related to Sue that one of the most difficult things from that period was sailing past men screaming in the water whose ships had been torpedoed in the Convoy column ahead of them. They were required to keep steaming and not stop for survivors.

As noted above, the vessel Ross was referring to that they lost on convoy RA-57 was the British SS Empire Tourist. She was two rows forward and one column to port from the Livingston's position. According to

On 4 Mar, 1944, U-703 attacked the convoy RA-57 near Kola Inlet with a spread of FAT torpedoes and sank the Empire Tourist (Master Hugh McCracken). At 15.45 hours, U-703 fired a GNAT and heard a detonation after 3 minutes 10 seconds, which was observed by HMS Milne (G 14). The U-boat was then attacked by this destroyer with depth charges for several hours.

The U-703 was a Type VIIC commanded by 25-year-old Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant) Joachim Brünner.

The “FaT” and “GNAT” designations identified the torpedoes as advanced weapons. “FaT” stood for Federapparat (Spring mechanism) Torpedo, and was a torpedo specifically designed for convoys that was capable of running in pre-programmed patterns and loops. Rather than continuing on the straight course it was fired on like a regular torpedo that might pass through a convoy and keep going, it would make 180 turns on a preset pattern, so if it missed on the first pass it would turn around and try again for as long as it had power. Quite a terrifying prospect in a convoy box formation. GNAT was actually an allied acronym which stood for "German Naval Acoustic Torpedo”. The German designation was the T5 Zaunköning (aka Wren). Originally designed as an escort killer, the weapon was designed to lock onto the loudest noise after a run of 400m from its launch. The Germans quickly learned it was just as effective homing in on the screws of Merchant ships in convoy. It could have just easily been the Philip Livingston or any of the other vessels in the convoy. According to “Brünner died along with his entire crew of 54 men when the boat went missing in the Arctic Ocean east of Iceland after 16 Sept 1944”. The exact cause for the loss of U-703 remains a mystery to this day.

One of the convoy escorts, HMS Gleaner was able to pick up all 68 crew of the Empire Tourist and land them safely at Loch Ewe. Ross likely never knew the name of the ship and had assumed most, if not all the men perished. This haunted him for many years.

From the end of April to the end of June, Ross made one more roundtrip convoy series, but this time just as far as the UK. Note that on both outbound convoys from New York the Philip Livingston was carrying explosives.

SS John Drake Sloat

On August 8th, 1944 Ross joined the Liberty SS John Drake Sloat in Boston, MA as Chief Mate under Master Walter R. Millington.

Liberty Ship SS John Drake Sloat on July 22nd, 1944 in convoy at position 42° 22' N, 70° 20' W course 330° approximately 12 nautical miles north of Provincetown, Cape Cod, MA. Courtesy of the National Archives via Frank A Gerhardt at

John Drake Sloat was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by California Ship Building Corporation in Los Angeles, CA. She was named after a commodore in the United States Navy who, in 1846, claimed California for the United States.

John Drake Sloat was the 28th Liberty delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on January 28th, 1943. She took only 42 days to build (26 days on way and 16 days on dock) at a cost of $988,909.00. She survived the war but was also immediately retired from operations and laid up as part of the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in California on October 6th, 1945.

She was never used again and was finally towed to Terminal Island, Los Angeles, California and scrapped by the National Metal & Steel Corp. in 1960.

As noted in Wally’s detailed list below, they successfully made one roundtrip voyage to the UK and back.

SS Frank Springer

Finally, on November 25th, 1944, at the age of only 26, Ross became the Master of his first vessel, the Liberty SS Frank Springer.

Frank Springer was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by California Ship Building Corporation in Los Angeles, CA. It’s unclear who she was named after.

Frank Springer was the 40th Liberty delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on June 30th, 1943. She took only 33 days to build (22 days on way and 11 days on dock) at a cost of $780,243.00. Details are scarce, but she survived the war and was laid up as part of the Reserve Fleet. She was eventually scrapped in Wilmington, NC, in 1967.

The Battle of the Atlantic was starting to wind down, and the Pacific theater was heating up as the allies closed in on the Japanese home islands. So at the end of 1944 Master Ross O’Laughlin found himself heading west, arriving at Pearl Harbor on New Year’s Day, 1945.

The following is another detailed list of sailings put together by Wally:

According to the family:

After Ross had joined the Frank Springer and was headed out to the West Coast, Sue called her sister Veva and asked her if she’d like to come with her and move out to California. Veva’s immediate answer was ‘Of course I’m going to come!’ They took the train from New Orleans to Los Angeles where Ross’ parents lived, and later up to San Francisco. Besides the two girls, they had Steve who was just a toddler at the time, and Kenny who was just a baby. The train was full of troops, and they all wanted to get close to Veva as she was quite a looker. They’d all come over and want to hold the baby so they could strike up a conversation with Veva. Sue thought this was all just grand as she didn’t have to hold the baby. After the girls got to San Francisco, Ross’ ship came in on May 2, 1945. Ross and Sue went looking all over the Bay Area for a home to rent and finally settled on a small home in Millbrae on the Peninsula. They lived there until 1950 when they bought the home in Belmont where Sue resides today.

Sue later wrote:

"Shortly after the last entry Ross was given the Frank Springer and finished out the war in the Pacific arena. He arrived back in the states several months after the war ended. A funny little side line to tickle your funny bone. When he arrived back he came into the Seattle area and called from there asking me how much I needed to run our household should he come ashore. He was in a state of shock when I said $300. Not so funny as his first job ashore with Red Stack only paid $175/month and ate all our poor savings before he got a raise!!"

So much for the myth that merchant seamen were paid much better than their military counterparts.

Red Stack and Post War

Immediately after the war, Ross left American-Hawaiian to join Red Stack Tugs in San Francisco where he worked with Joe Spelker of the Ohioan and several other ex-American-Hawaiian officers. Ross was Master on their seagoing tugs before being promoted to Pilot/Docking Master in San Francisco.

The following are just a sampling of the tugs that Ross served on:

According to Wally, this is a photo of the tug Sea Lion when Ross was Master of it. She was an ex US Navy ATA class tug. They had two diesel engines driving an electric motor with a single screw. Their gross tonnage was higher than most tugs (more than 200GT), so they required an unlimited Master's license. This was a problem for Red Stack as many of their men had licenses that were limited to 200 GT, so this class of tug wasn't used that long commercially. Ross and his compatriots from big ships would have often been assigned to tugs of this class. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family.

According to Wally, this is the Red Stack Tug Sea Wolf of which Ross was Master. She was a Miki class tug of wooden construction with a 1200 HP direct reversing Enterprise diesel engine. 61 of these tugs were built for the US Army during WWII as emergency construction due to the shortage of steel. Red Stack has quite a fleet of them which were purchased surplus at the end of the war, and they gave long and useful service both towing outside and giving ship assist in the bay and at other harbors up and down the coast. While the Sea Wolf burned at sea prior to Kenny and I arriving at Red Stack in 1972, they still had four in service in San Francisco at that time: Sea King, Sea Prince, Sea Robin & Sea Cloud. Kenny was master of the Sea King for three years before all of them were retired in 1980. They'd become a liability due to constant leakage with their wooden hulls, and pumping the oily water from the bilges became a problem. All four boats were stripped and towed to sea and sunk with remote charges; a sad day indeed as we all loved them dearly. The saying at Red Stack was if you could run a Miki, docking ships was easy. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family.

Ross later became a San Francisco Bar Pilot where he worked until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 53. Being appointed to the San Francisco Bar Pilot's Association by the San Francisco Port Authority was and is considered a high honor by seamen, and is a lifetime job. Members of the Association are named when other members retire. The membership during Ross' time was kept at 25 Bar Pilots and required members to have served as master of an ocean going vessel. Today's organization consists of 60 pilots who are overseen and regulated by the State Board of Pilot Commissioners.

The Pilot Schooner California which was in service when Ross was a San Francisco Bar Pilot. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family.

The Pilot Schooner California which was in service when Ross was a San Francisco Bar Pilot is still afloat, and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Schooner Zodiac.

Wally recalls that when Pier 7 burned down in 1973 he was mate on the tug Sea King and Jack Cloward was the Captain. They towed the California out of the pier to get her away from the fire. Wally remembers that flaming embers were falling all over their wooden tug, and the two deckhands were running around stomping the flames out.

According to Wally:

Other American-Hawaiian employees who came to Red Stack about that time were George Melanson and John I. Carter. Joe Devine was another longtime friend at Red Stack, but he hadn’t been with AH. Another name that’s cropped up recently that was a family friend was Leo Schwab who was with PFEL [Pacific Far East Lines] after the war. I don’t know if he was AH, but I worked with him when I was at PFEL, and remember him well. Ross was highly respected both as a pilot and seaman, and had lots of friends in the pilots and the industry.

Ross and Sue had six children; Stephen, Kenneth, Timothy, Dennis, Kathleen & Eileen.

All four boys followed in their father’s footsteps and graduated from the now California Maritime Academy. Steve, the oldest, was tragically lost in Vietnam. Ken paralleled Wally’s career by going to sea and then following in his father’s footsteps to become a Red Stack Pilot and subsequently a San Francisco Bar Pilot. He retired in 2010. Tim is a retired ship's Master who spent his career with Sea Land and subsequently Maersk. Dennis, the youngest, is still sailing as Captain with Central Gulf.

Daughter Kathleen married mariner Wally Slough. Daughter Eileen, apparently the rebel in the family, married a cabinet maker.

Sadly, Ross’ wife Sue passed away on September 27th, 2014 at the age of 94 after a very full life. Wally and Kathy's newest granddaughter, Miss Caitlin Soule' Snodgrass, was named after her and luckily they had several opportunities to spend time together before Sue's passing.

I personally will always be grateful for the privilege afforded to me by the O'Laughlin family to publish Ross and Sue's remarkable story.

Photo of Ross taken in 1964 for the San Francisco Bar Pilots, age 46. Courtesy of the O'Laughlin Family. All Rights Reserved.

Sources for biographical information on O'Laughlin family, sailings for SS Henry County, 1937 CNS cruise crew list,

Boone, Dave - ( artist who provided the photos of Alabaman, Kansan, Georgian and Floridian from his private collection from the 1930's originally taken by Francis Palmer.

California Maritime Academy, The Campus History Collection, for the photo of the California State in Sydney,


Naval History and Heritage Command website for information and images of the SS Santa Olivia/Kansan.

Roberts, Captain Stephen S. USNR (Retired) on his site for information on Henry County/California State and Georgian origins from the article by Norman L. McKellar - Steel Shipbuilding under the U. S. Shipping Board, 1917-1921, in ‘The Belgian Shiplover, No. 87 May/June 1962.

Slough, Captain S. Wallace – for information on Ross' life and career. for information on U-703, their victims, and for information on torpedoes.