Friday, April 13, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Take Flight

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

Meet my maternal grandmother’s brother Ellsworth Ray Rucker:


This is Ray too:

This shoebox filled with pictures, postcards, and souvenirs from tours in the Navy is what Ray left behind when he took his own life in his mother’s shed in 1927.  His mother kept this box as did my grandmother and my mother.  Now I have this mini-memorial that is more mystery than gift.  Faces and events mean nothing. 

Ray did not marry.  He had no children.  No one will be excited to see these pictures.  No one is searching for him in old census records.  Therefore, I feel compelled to remember Ray Rucker.  If I don’t, who will? 

I don’t have any expertise at reconstructing history from clues in old photos, and my knowledge of naval warfare is limited, but I have learned something of Ray’s life in the Navy from the photos and occasional note on the back, and a little Googling. 

Mine explosion
Ray most likely began his Navy career on the USS Swallow,
a minesweeper whose dangerous duty was to remove mines
placed by the enemy to prevent ships from passing.

In addition to a pay receipt dated 1922, he has this next picture. 

On the back he wrote:  U.S.S. Swallow Ship wrecked and dashed high and dry on the rocks near Ketchikan Alaska Sept 12 – 1920.

Ray later served on the USS Colorado, a recently commissioned Maryland class super dreadnought, in other words a big-gun battleship.  He must have been among the first crewmen.

Official photo distributed by the Navy
Ray wrote on the back  "off the coast of Buenos Aires"

Main battery firing

The ship carried Corsair float planes on catapult rails, two on the after deck and one on top of the gun turret.

Views of the sea planes
In the bottom shot, the plane is being catapulted off the ship

The Corsair float planes were used for reconnaissance and to adjust fire for the ship’s big guns.  (Were you wondering if I would ever connect to the theme?)  Of course, Ray did not live to see the Colorado and the Corsair aircraft in their mission to find Amelia Earhart.

Ray at work on the USS Colorado

Top left: Ray is on the back row, far right
Bottom right:  Ray is the first guy, front row

Ray’s collection of pictures matches the history of the USS Colorado’s calibration trials in the Atlantic in 1924 followed by a trip through the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Battle Fleet. 

Colorado going through
the Panama Canal

The following year, Ray was on the Colorado when it sailed to Australia and New Zealand.

Parade in Auckland, New Zealand

Sometime during that tour they stopped in the Samoan Islands.  What a treasure is this picture of Ray with a Samoan native.

Ray lived a lot in 27 years. 

Stretch your wings and fly over to Sepia Saturday to read other flights of fancy.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. What a fabulous post; interesting from start to end. the theme didn't really matter. How tragic that ray took his own life.
    You have quite a history in these photos even if they weren't connected to your family. As my brother was on aircraft carriers during and after WWII I really appreciate the Corsairs and the seaplanes.

  2. I agree with Bob, it's a wonderful post, full to the brim with memories and images. I quite like the idea of leaving a shoebox memorial behind - perhaps our blogs are our modern equivalent. Let's hope they survive as long

  3. This was a stellar post! You really wrenched my gut with that comment "This is Ray too." I commend you for your tribute to him. There might be someone looking for him in the old documents. How can you know if there isn't?

    I agree, that picture with the Samoan is a real treasure! You are lucky to have had come into possession of these mementoes.

  4. It's too bad that he killed himself so young. It's also true someone could be looking for him on i look for plenty of people that are no way related to me.

    1. Wendy,

      Bless your heart. It is so sad that he died young like that, but I bet he is up there sayin' "I'll be damned! I made the internet!"

      This is an wonderful post!

      Kathy M.

  5. You are absolutely right to rememeber him in this way, so that he is not just a box of photographs - but what photographs! He certainly had an interesting naval career and there’s an unreasonable wish to know why anyone so young, who had lived through those times, would want to end it all. Poor Ray, and poor Ray’s Mum.

  6. I should say Ray had and saw so very much in that 27 year span! Amazing, and such lively action photos you have to share!

  7. Wendy, what an excellent memoir and what a life! Wars are just so awful, nothing but sadness, fear and death.

  8. That is a nice collection of photos, and it seems like Ray must have enjoyed his experience in the Navy. It is nice that the family has preserved the pictures.

  9. I'm so glad you posted these memories of Ray. Gone but not forgotten, thanks to you.

  10. What a wonderful box of memories. But such a sad story. I'm glad that Ray had such an exciting life.

  11. I think this one of the things that Grandma never understood. She had said he was at Portsmouth Naval Hospital for a while, but never told me why. Too sad =(

  12. Fascinating collection- and not the sum of all he was I am sure. Thanks for sharing his brief life with us. My brother chose to end his own life at the age of 21, and I always think of what could have been- and isn't...because of a moment's desperate decision.

  13. Ray’s Collection is fascinating .Such a varied group of images.Thanks for sharing here.

  14. It really is quite stunning when we look at what the net can do. You've created a memorial for a man who thought so little of his future. The future he would have never imagined as given him a new life. Excellent post.

  15. You did a great job with a box of unknown and unassuming photos. I bet you are right, he is having a good laugh at himself now, and likely never would have dreamed of this. Great reading. I have som USS Alabama photos a big gun boat we saw in Feb in Mobile.

  16. A wonderful memorial Wendy and someone, someday will be looking for him and find this and be so excited.

  17. I agree if we don't remember the singletons in our families, who will. You've done Ray proud here but how sad that he felt he had to take his own life.

  18. So happy I ran across this post. You're wrong Wendy, people are interested in these photo's and are searching old census records (and the like) for Ray and others. Ray is my 3rd cousin 2x removed which makes us cousins as well. We're related through an equally mysterious ancestor we share named Elliott Jones. He was from colonial Virginia and was in the American Revolution. I find some irony in the fact that Ray was on the Colorado as you might imagine :)

    I personally am now fascinated by this forgotten sailor, his Navy service and his life. thanks for sharing this story, I'm glad I went searching :)