Davis I. Rawal, 1921-2006
The is a page to memorialize Dave's life. The stories he left on his computer have been edited for spelling and punctuation, but I've left the text essentially unchanged. In a few cases, I've noted where Dave's memory doesn't exactly match the reported sequence of events.
The first story Dave leaves us with is "Strawberry Picking and a Duck Tour of Sicily," where Dave recounts several episodes from his childhood on a farm outside Albany, and finishes with an odd coincidence during the invasion of Sicily.
At the age of 18 Dave enlisted in the Marines. He was injured in Cuba during a "civil disturbance" and discharged. In the second story, "Signing on the SS Exford," Dave explains how his ham radio hobby helped him to become a Radio Officer in the Merchant Marine. One must keep in mind that Dave was only 20 years old, had no Merchant Marine experience, no command experience or training, and no professional radio training. The Radio Officer position was important in those days, as Dave often accompanied the Captain to official planning meetings, and also served as liaison between the crew and the Captain on union business.
Dave had spoken often of two famous writers on board the Exford, Otis Ferguson and Raoul Graumont. I was surprised to discover that Otis Ferguson was one of the leading movie critics of his day - his reviews of The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane (both somewhat negative) for The New Republic are still studied today. And Graumont had sailed on one of the last true windjammers, and his books were the definitive works on knots and splicing for years.
And if you're wondering about the term "Hog Islander," here's a link.
Six months after signing on the Exford, Dave found himself in the infamous PQ-17 and PQ-18 convoys. There had been a number of quite successful convoys through the Arctic Ocean to Russia, but by the summer of 1942 the Germans were determined to end them. The losses on PQ-17 and 18 were so great that the convoys were canceled for the rest of the year. Dave's ship had the distinction of being the only merchant vessel to survive both, as Dave explains in "PQ-17 - A 1942 Pleasure Cruise in the North Atlantic." About ten years ago Dave was honored for his convoy service by the Russian government in a ceremony at the Russian embassy in Washington.
The last story Dave leaves us with is "The Champions of the South Pacific." The story is made more poignant when we realize that four days later Dave's ship is torpedoed and the few survivors spent 18 days in a life raft before being rescued. Here are the official Navy reports written by the Armed Guard aboard the Oklahoma. The Navy crews were separate from the Merchant Marines, so Dave is not listed by name. However, he is mentioned as the "first R/O" (Radio Officer) who suggested that it would have been nice if the emergency radio floated.
In January 1988, veteran status was extended to merchant mariners who served in WWII. The renewed interest in the role of the Merchant Marine during the war led to several memorials, including this one in Battery Park, New York. Dave supported these efforts; here's the letter he wrote to the memorial committee.
Here are several newspaper clippings, one of Dave's exploits, the other of the ceremony at the Russian embassy where survivors of the convoys were honored.
This is the list of ships Dave served on during the war, as listed on his belated Coast Guard discharge papers:
Presumably the service time for the Exford begins at the first transatlantic convoy. Curiously, his service ends when the Oklahoma was sunk - he got no credit for 18 days in a life raft! Dave stayed in the Merchant Marines, traveling the world until 1950, but we have no record of which ships he served on during this period.
All of the stories on these pages are Copyright © 2006 Davis I Rawal