George Shaw, left, and Ambassador Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, right, at Shaw’s medal ceremony at the Qualicum Beach Royal Canadian Legion Branch 76 where he received the Congressional Medal of Honour on March 1. (Submitted photo)

George Shaw, left, and Ambassador Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, right, at Shaw’s medal ceremony at the Qualicum Beach Royal Canadian Legion Branch 76 where he received the Congressional Medal of Honour on March 1. (Submitted photo)

U.S. Merchant Marine veteran from Lantzville receives Congressional Medal of Honour

Norway’s ambassador to Canada presented the medal to George Shaw this month in Qualicum Beach

A Second World War veteran who now lives in Lantzville received the Congressional Medal of Honour last week.

A medal ceremony was held at the Qualicum Beach Royal Canadian Legion on March 1 for George Shaw, 94, a veteran of the U.S. Merchant Marine. While he served, Shaw sailed on vessels from both the United States and Norway – representatives of Norway were able to verify his service.

Norway’s ambassador to Canada, H.E. Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, attended the ceremony and presented the medal to Shaw.

“I just was really amazed at how nice it went,” said Shaw about the ceremony. “And, of course, it made me feel really good … For me, it was almost embarrassing because I think back to all the people who never got the awards that they should’ve received.”

According to a press release from the U.S. Maritime Administration, U.S. merchant mariners “sailed dangerous seas prowled by enemy vessels to maintain the vital supply lines fueling the worldwide effort to liberate the world from tyranny.”

Shaw gained dual citizenship and moved to Vancouver Island in 2003 after looking for a house in southern B.C. where he could retire.

In an e-mail, his wife Helen wrote that her husband enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard at age 16 in 1943. As a “farm kid” who had never seen the ocean or even been on a boat, he faced a learning curve in dealing with seasickness, boot camp and more seasickness. Shortly after finishing boot camp, several Merchant Marine vessels were in immediate need of crewmen so George took the opportunity to sign up. In October 1944, he joined a convoy to Hawaii and Guam, sailing in the Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Baltic and Indian Oceans.

In her e-mail, Helen recounted one of the incredible challenges George faced while serving.

In 1945, he was on a ship docked in Galveston, Texas, that was loading grain to take to Marseille, France. George was part of the skeleton crew left on watch when the grain elevator caught fire with embers falling onto the ship, and “it was just a matter of time until the grain elevator would come down on the ship.”

An officer, mistaking George for a quartermaster, instructed him to report to the wheelhouse and subsequently directed him to “take her out” into the channel. After wondering “what in the [heck] am I going to do now,” George telegraphed the engine room to go “dead slow astern,” and remembering a high school science lesson on vectors, managed to move the ship away from danger.

The next day, George overheard several Coast Guardsmen chatting about the previous night’s fire. One said, “Did you see that ship backing away from the dock?” To which another replied, “Yeah, we were watching from the next pier. And our captain told us, ‘Now, there goes a captain with 20 years’ experience.’”

George Shaw continued to serve until September 1946, when he returned to high school. After graduating, he worked various jobs until he was awarded a scholarship to a community college, and went on to eventually earn a master’s degree. From there, he taught elementary and high school before working for 30 years at the Yuba College, a community college in Marysville, Calif. He later became dean of the language arts department and retired as personnel director.

READ MORE: Royal Canadian Legion Branch 76 (Qualicum Beach) manager, Richard Paugh, retires after 21 years

mandy.moraes@pqbnews.com

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