Rutan, George Morris

George Morris Rutan
Born: August 14, 1920
Hometown: Albany, CA
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Third Mate
Date/Place of death: July 2, 1944/
Indian Ocean, 3-28 S, 74-30 E
Date/Place of burial: July 2, 1944/
Indian Ocean, 3-28 S, 74-30 E – Lost at Sea
Age: 23

 

 

George M. Rutan signed on aboard the SS Antigua as Deck Cadet on October 14,
1942 at San Francisco, CA after completing Basic School at San Mateo. He signed off
on February 15, 1943 to report to Kings Point. He signed on again as Deck Cadet
aboard the SS Walter Reed at New York on August 9, 1943. He signed off on February
4, 1944 after a return voyage from Algeria. George Rutan received his license as Third
Mate on April 12, 1944 at San Francisco, CA. Two weeks later, on April 28, 1944 he
signed on as Third Mate aboard the SS Jean Nicolet. He was joined by another Kings
Pointer, Floyd Roach, who signed on as Second Assistant Engineer.
The Jean Nicolet sailed on May 12, 1944 from San Pedro, California, en route to
Colombo, Ceylon with a cargo of heavy machinery, trucks, steel plates, and other
general cargo. As usual with war-time practice the ship also had a deck cargo of steel
mooring pontoons, disassembled barges and more steel plates.
On July 2, 1944, at about 1907 local time, shortly after securing from evening General
Quarters, the SS Jean Nicolet was struck by two torpedoes on the starboard side, thus
initiating a chilling tale of death and atrocity. The torpedoes were launched by the
Japanese submarine I-8, while the Jean Nicolet was traveling unescorted alone in the
Indian Ocean.
After the impact, the ship began to list dangerously to port, and the engines were
secured in preparation for abandoning ship. The Captain feared the ship would
capsize, and ordered the crew to abandon around 1920. Four lifeboats and two rafts
were successfully lowered, and the entire complement, 41 crew members, 28 Naval
Armed Guard, 26 passengers, and 1 U.S. Army medic, abandoned ship. After the
boats had been lowered, the submarine began shelling the ship, and fires were seen on
the main deck. The radio operator had been able to send a distress signal before
leaving the Jean Nicolet, which probably saved the lives of the 23 men who survived the
Japanese atrocities to follow.
The submarine commander, Tetsunosuke Ariizumi, ordered the boats and rafts to
approach the submarine, and all of the survivors, except for five men who were able to
pull away unseen on a small raft, were taken onto the deck of the submarine. The
survivors, including George Rutan, were then subjected to brutal and violent treatment.
After their hands were bound behind them with wire, many of the survivors were
bayoneted and thrown into the water. Others were made to run through a gauntlet of
Japanese crew members armed with steel stanchions, bayonets, and rifles. Many of
the men died on the deck of the submarine while the rest either drowned after being
thrown into the water, or were finished off by hungry sharks attracted to the scene by
the blood in the water.
Only when an approaching plane was heard, several hours after the torpedoing, did the
submarine submerge. Many of those left on deck drowned, with their hands were still
tied together. A few survivors managed to stay afloat until another plane, flying over at
0630 the next morning, dropped bread, water, and life jackets. A total of 23 men were
eventually rescued by HMS Hoxa (T-16). However, crewmen, Armed Guard Sailors
and passengers, including George M. Rutan, died either at the hands of the Japanese
or drowned. The Captain, the radio operator, and Francis J. O’Gara, a representative
of the War Shipping Administration were taken on board the submarine as prisoners.
Of the three, only Mr. O’Gara survived to be liberated from a Japanese Prisoner of War
camp in 1945. Presuming that Mr. O’Gara died, the U.S. Maritime Commission named
a Liberty Ship after him, the only Liberty Ship named after a living person.
The I-8 was sunk later in the war by U.S. Navy destroyers, killing most of the crew
which perpetrated the atrocities on the Jean Nicolet’s survivors and those of the Dutch
freighter SS Tjisalak. Upon the announcement of the Japanese surrender Tetsunosuke
Ariizumi committed suicide, evading responsibility for his actions. Two surviving crew
members were convicted of their crimes by post-war tribunals and sentenced to prison
terms.
Based on his service both as a Cadet-Midshipman and Licensed Officer, George M.
Rutan was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic
War Zone Bar, Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, Pacific War Zone Bar, the
Victory Medal and Presidential Testimonial Letter.
George M. Rutan was the only son of George C. Rutan and Estelle M. (Mae) Rutan.
The senior Rutan’s occupation is listed as “Driller” in the 1940 U.S. Census while
George M. Rutan is shown as being employed as a professional photographer while
attending college.

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