paraphrase Winston Churchill, Ruffus has been a riddle wrapped in a
mystery inside an enigma.
in him dates back to 1992 when Kenneth Thames started researching all
the known veterans buried at
investigation found no death certificate, birth certificate or newspaper
obituary. It was decided to go ahead and list him as a veteran until
such time it was proven otherwise, and he was carried on the Post list
of veterans since that time.
sort of just rode along for a while without too much research going on.
Then in June, 2000, Carol Sue Gibbs and Kenneth joined forces and began
to really look in earnest into who Ruffus was. Their research has gone
was Ruffus? The genealogy room at the library started to give a few
small clues – he had applied for a delayed birth certificate on
started our research in the Merchant Marines? The real break occurred
when Lynna Kay Shuffield, a military researcher, was contacted by email
for help. She provided the information from the Merchant Marine book
entitled A Careless Word, A
Needless Sinking, which listed Ruffus Alston as a messman aboard the
SS India Arrow.
the clue provided by Lynna Kay, information was collected about the
construction of the ship Ruffus was on when it was sunk, the SS
India Arrow. We learned the German U boat, U-103, sank the ship, and
we learned how the ship died in flames with 26 lost souls and only 12
survivors. Ruffus was a veteran after all. Merchant Marine seamen who
had served between 1941 and 1946 had been given veteran status. Those
still living can receive veteran’s benefits if they apply for either
an Army or Coast Guard discharge.
Matagorda County Genealogical Society ordered a set of the fiche, All
WWII Dead, for the genealogy room of the Bay City Public Library. It
lists all the casualties of WWII. This included all the combat branches
plus the Merchant Marines – and Ruffus was listed as a member of the
Merchant Marines. His Z number 9 (service number) was part of the
Memorial Day 2001, a flag was placed by the marker of Ruffus Alston for
the first time since he had given his life for his country in 1942. A
special sign that included a picture of the
next step was to submit a request for a government monument to place at
the foot of Ruffus’ empty grave. The monument was received in November
2002. “Mariner’s Medal” was engraved on it, which is the Merchant
Marine equivalent of the Purple Heart. A Presidential Memorial
Certificate was also obtained and Kenneth is now doing research on
acquiring his medals so a small display can be constructed at the VFW in
is a basic biographical sketch of Ruffus:
Ruffus Edgar Alston
was born in Stockdale, Wilson County, Texas on
Ruffus Edgar Alston was born in Stockdale, Wilson County, Texas on
Alston was killed in April, 1918 and his remains were taken back to
Stockdale for burial. The 1920 census reveals that Elizabeth and the
four children were living in Clemville (
Alston was later married to V. G. Snedecor. She died on or near
sister, Zelda, had married a man from Matagorda named Ira Guy Stribling.
They were evidently living in
is not known exactly when he joined the Merchant Marines. He listed his
sister Zelda as his next of kin. His service number was 241522.
joined the crew of the SS India Arrow, an 8,327-ton oil tanker
owned by SOCONY [Standard Oil Company of New York]-Vacuum Oil
Corporation, today Mobil Oil Company, at Corpus Christi as a messman in
the galley. With a crew of 38, the ship sailed from
ON TANKER LOST AS U-BOAT STRIKES; 12 ADRIFT 36 HOURS
of Attack, They Refuse to Answer Signal—
In a grim
continuation of the warfare that already has claimed thirteen announced
8,327-ton tanker India Arrow sank in a sea of blazing oil after
she had been torpedoed and shelled by a submarine that struck without a
second’s warning early Wednesday evening. The twelve survivors, picked
up by a fishing boat, were brought into
ship, owned by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company,
The seriousness of
the situation on this side of the
Johnson, a gray-haired, 48-year-old sea veteran, told how one lifeboat
jammed with officers and seamen went down when debris from the ship’s
shelled bridge struck it. He soberly said: “I am doubtful if any
Arrow, a 468.3-foot tanker, built in 1921 at
Johnson, who lives at New Dorp,
was on the bridge,” he said. “There was a loud report, and the
torpedo slammed into the starboard side, to the fore of the engines. The
ship caught fire and started sinking in about 5 minutes. Oil from the
No. 10 cargo tank, which was punctured, leaked onto the water and caught
ship started to list, the shelling from the submarine’s deck gun
began, the bridge collapsed and the captain fell off the bridge he
related. Almost miraculously, he was “washed into a lifeboat” that
had been launched successfully from the starboard side—he still is now
sure how it happened. Two other men were in the boat.
lifeboats were lost when the ship’s stern went under, and the bulk of
the Indian Arrow’s crew rushed for the remaining port lifeboat.
When the shelling began and the bridge collapsed, the debris struck this
boat, survivors related, and the screaming, cursing men were knocked
into the water—most of them to their death.
blaze lit up the scene, and we could see the conning tower of the
submarine on the other side of the burning boat,” Radio Operator
Edward J. Shear related. “We were afraid to do anything—to show our
lights, to set sail or start rowing or even to bail out the water that
had shipped into the lifeboat—because we thought the sub might start
shelling us. We were only 300 yards away.
Blazing on Water
Johnson continued with the story of how the lifeboat drifted around,
finally managing to pick up nine other survivors within an hour after
they had taken to the water. No others were to be found by then so they
finally put up the emergency sail that the lifeboat carried and,
augmenting it with work at the oars, started pulling away. They could
see oil blazing on the water for nearly two hours afterward. Much later,
they could see in the distance the tantalizing spectacle of lights from
Operator Shear, 27-year-old native of
ran to the radio room and sent out the signal that we were torpedoed,”
he said, “I tried to send our last-known position but before I could
do so the lights failed. I tried the emergency power and it was useless.
I ran to my cabin, got a lifebelt and my flashlight and made a lifeboat
just in time.”
was the radio operator who told how the survivors in the lifeboat
flashed their lights at ships that passed them in the night.
they did was change their courses,” he said.
of coastal ships are reportedly wary of signals since one of the
disappointment followed the next day when not a ship was sighted, Shear
of Luckiest Aboard
Michael Kusy, who
saw the port boat go under when the bridge hit it and was thankful I
wasn’t in it,” he said.
was picked up thirty minutes later by the other lifeboat, but had a few
bad moments in the water when he first sighted it. He yelled but could
not make himself heard, so, using all of his strength, he paddled his
hatch cover over to it.
other “lucky” men were Gordon Chambers, 20, of the
was not until
yesterday that the survivors
of the India Arrow were picked up by Frank D. Marshall, skipper
of the fishing boat Gitana, out of
were a sorry looking crew, he related—soaked with oil and water, and
most of them barefooted. They had had nothing to eat but oily biscuits,
and oil from the torpedoed tanker had ruined the drinking water.
Owners Reveal Names of 26 Missing in Disaster
Navy Department listed the following men as rescued when the 8,327-ton
American tanker India Arrow was torpedoed off the
Carl S. Johnson,
J. Shear, radio operator,
L. Montgomery, boatswain,
L. Seerveld, able-bodied seaman, Center Moriches, L. I.
C. Kusy, able-bodied seaman,
J. Proehl, ordinary seaman,
K. Baugh, ordinary seaman,
H. Baker, machinist, John’s
C. Bradford, fireman,
F. Palmer, fireman,
Chambers, wiper, the
men are missing in the disaster. Their names, released by Socony-Vacuum,
T. Davis, chief officer, the
L. Brouillet, second officer,
J. Winn, third officer,
Suderow, chief engineer,
E. Brittingham, first assistant engineer,
V. White, second assistant engineer, Tottenville, S. I.
D. Truitt, third assistant engineer,
P. Heater, junior third assistant engineer,
S. Kerr, able-bodied seaman, Arkabutla, Miss.
P. Simonson, able-bodied seaman,
Tucker, able-bodied seaman,
Baldwin, able-bodied seaman,
Schwartz, ordinary seaman,
J. Moody, oiler,
B. Anger, oiler,
M. Armanini, fireman, Beaumont.
H. Duhrman, wiper,
E. Harris, chief cook,
Nilsen, second cook,
A. Finn, messman,
Hetz, galley assistant,
Alston, messman, Corpus Christi,
LITTLE HOPE HELD FOR SAFETY OF SUB VICTIM
Rufus Edgar Alston, 38, messman aboard the ill-fated tanker India Arrow, which sank late Wednesday after being struck by an Axis torpedo off the Atlantic Coast is among those reported missing. Only 12 crewmen have reached shore safely. Alston had made his home in Corpus Christi at different times, living with his sister, Mrs. I G. Stribling at 3501 Avenue D. It was Alston’s first trip to sea.
Little hope was held for his safety as
the captain of the ill-fated ship, who reached shore safely with the 12
members of the crew, said he believed a second lifeboat that was
launched from the sinking ship had been engulfed in flames of oil that
spread over the surface of the sea.
Click Search the Registry on the bar on the left
Enter Alston Ruffus
Click on his name
1884 - [Aug 23,] 1939
Jan 5, 1880 - Apr 2, 1918
Son of John & Mattie Alston
Photo courtesy of Ernest Young
Mrs. V. G. Snedecor of West Columbia, Texas, passed away at her home last night at 8:10 p.m. She is survived by her husband, two daughters, Mrs. I. G. Stribling of Corpus Christi and Mrs. J. E. Smith of Bunkie, Louisiana, two sons, R. E. and J. L. Alston of Corpus Christi.
Funeral services were held Wednesday afternoon at Walker-Matchett Funeral Home. Rev. Paul Davis officiated. Burial was in Cedarvale Cemetery.
The Daily Tribune, August
Two Men Dead, One Badly Injured, Others Hurt.
A horrible tragedy occurred yesterday near Markham during a barbecue where several men had gathered. A quarrel arose over some matters and rapidly developed into a general fight, in which two men, Elmer Austin [Alston] and Buck Wiley, were killed instantly and J. J. Quinney was injured so badly that he is expected to die.
The weapons used were scantlings, a pitchfork and spades. The killing was done with a grubbing hoe in the hands of one of the combatants.
The Matagorda County Tribune,
April 5, 1918
Copyright 2005 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
|This page was created
Jan. 12, 2005
|This page was updated
Dec. 31, 2008
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|The New York Times & Corpus Christi Caller|