"Admiral Randall, Native Son"
by Thomas R. Bayles
Long Island Forum, February 1962, pg. 31-32
A NATIVE son of Brookhaven town who stood at the top of the United States Merchant Marine was Rear Admiral Albert B. Randall, USNR, Commandant of the U.S. Maritime Service and retired Commodore of the Fleet of the United States Lines. He was the only merchant marine officer ever to hold the rank of rear admiral in the United States Naval Reserve.
He was born at Brookhaven on Sept. 10, 1879, and was the son of William F. Randall, a native of Middle Island, and Sarah S. Smith of Brookhaven. They moved to Bridgeport, Conn. soon after the birth of their son, and it was there that Albert received his education, and later at Vermont Academy.
This veteran mariner was as salty as the language of his hard swearing parrot, "Barnacle Bill." He had lived on, by and for the sea since he was 13, when the sailed before the mast on a voyage around the Horn, which his mother hoped in vain would cure him of his appetite for the sea.
When he was 17, he enlisted as an ordinary seaman on the bark Obed Baxter, whose skipper, Leander B. Sweeney, was a first cousin of Albert's and also a native of Brookhaven. He saw much service in Asiatic waters during the next few years, and served on the army transports "Burnside," "Sedgwick," and. "Kilpatrick," as ship's officer, to and from the Phillippines and the West Indies. In 1901 he joined the Navy Auxiliary Service and was assigned as third officer on the "Ajax." He was promoted several times to more responsible posts and received his master's license in 1905, and his first command in 1907.
During World War I he was called into service under the Naval Reserve Commission he had held since 1902, and became a commodore of convoys. He was returning on the "President Lincoln" after commanding a 52 ship convoy safely across, when the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Capt. Randall took to a life boat and escaped capture by removing his tell-tale uniform, and when the U boat commander hailed the boat and demanded to know where the captain was I the captain shouted, "He went down with the ship." Capt. Randall distinguished himself in the convoy service during the war.
Old Navy men still talk of the feat that won him his captain's four stripes in 1904. As chief officer of the Navy collier "Caesar," he was assigned the seemingly impossible task of towing the drydock "Dewey" from Baltimore to the Philippine Islands, a distance of 12,000 miles. The drydock was 500 feet long with square ends and was almost unmanageable on the tow. It broke loose frequently, and there were days when the log showed miles lost rather than gained, but Capt. Randall got the "Dewey" to its destination in six months. Recommended for promotion to captain, the 25-year-old Randall looked too young to the admiral in charge of the Navy's colliery branch. Six months later he returned from a voyage to the tropics with a full beard, appeared again before the admiral, got his four stripes and shaved his beard off the next day.
In 1921 he became master of the S.S. America and later on in the same year took command of the "George Washington," and during the next 15 years Capt. Randall commanded many of the finest luxury liners, including the "Republic," the "Manhattan," and the famous "Leviathan." He was finally promoted to commodore of the fleet aboard the flagship "Manhattan." Although he had served in the Merchant Marine, he had remained in the Naval Reserve and was ranking commander at the time of his retirement in 1939. His retirement was brief, however, and with the beginning of the activities of the Second World War he was called to active service, and again commissioned Rear Admiral, and was assigned to the position of executive officer of the Seaman's Service for the Port of New York. In April 1942 he was promoted to Commandant of the United States Maritime Service with headquarters in Washington.
Among the many rescues performed during Admiral Randall's long career was one in 1920, in which he acquired the nickname of "Rescue Randall," as a result of his feat in transferring 274 passengers from the sinking "Powhatan," which he then brought safely back into port at Halifax. In 1922 he rescued six men from the sinking schooner "Rhein de Mers," which was foundering with her rudder and sails gone, off Newfoundland, and with mountainous seas raging. Again two years later he went to the aid of a Coast Guard cutter that had been blown helpless out to sea in an October gale off Nantucket, and took off the eight members of her crew.
His acts of heroism and his brilliant career as commander of great American ships prompted the President of the United States to send him the following letter upon his retirement in 1939.
"My Dear Captain Randall;
I take the occasion of your retirement to congratulate you on a long and distingushed career."