Posted by: SJS | March 26, 2020

The pandemic of 1918 shaped Red’s life

Mary Young Stahley 1926

Red with his parents 1944

Red and his parents 1944

In 1918, in the midst of the horrific flu pandemic that swept through Philadelphia like a ravenous army of dog-sized locusts, my grandmother, Mary Young, lost her mother in a matter of 72 hours.  Mary was 13 years old at the time and she had five younger siblings. Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, was a Philadelphia fireman.  She dropped out of school in the sixth grade and never went back.  She raised those siblings–Bill, Peg, George, Catherine, and Joe.  For the rest of their lives, treated Mary with love, deep affection, and the reverence that one shows to a mother.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the loss of my great-grandmother in the flu epidemic of 1918 shaped the life of our family–even until the present moment.  My grandmother lived under the shadow of her mother’s death for the rest of her life–but it never dimmed her fierce determination to live life to its fullest.

To us, her grandchildren, Nana, was like a force of nature.  I may have known more energetic persons growing up but, if so, I surely cannot remember who they were.  Nana was about everything.  She had that rare gift of being able to live each day as if it were her last.

My father was her only child and she loved him with a fierce, possessive love that was almost smothering.  When my father left for the Navy in 1943, Nana was overwhelmed with fear that was almost at the level of panic.  I have no doubt that every day of my father’s navy service in WWII was a day consumed with worry, deep anxiety, and dread. I well remember the stories she told me as a child–Nana transfixed me with her stories of her childhood and all that she experienced.

I am convinced that one of the reasons my father survived the war, perhaps the most important reason, was because of the gifts that his mother gave him.  Red never doubted for a moment that he was loved with a ferocious, overwhelming love that gave him a level of confidence that was almost towering.  He took with him into the navy a bit of a swagger that served him well in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.  Red’s self confidence, skepticism, and edgy sense of humor made him a perfect fit for PT service.

Like all the PT boys, Red radiated an energy that said (shouted), “Go ahead, knock this chip off my shoulder.  Go ahead…”

Red fit right in with his mates who took their brash confidence onto their small boats and out onto dark waters to take it to enemies with bigger boats, fighter planes, shore batteries, and mines.  The attitude was always, “bring it on.”

Nana survived the flu epidemic and all the monstrous losses it delivered.  Red survived all the the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could throw at him.  Their blood flows in our veins and when you combine that with the O’Neill blood we received from my mother’s side–well–we’ve received quite a pedigree.

Nana survived the flu epidemic and Red survived the forces of death in WWII and we will survive this frightening time.

Please stay safe, take all necessary precautions, and just do the things that must be done in these dark and difficult days.

God bless us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: SJS | January 30, 2020

A 2020 shout out to PT Boats, Inc.

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As I begin another year of research and blogging on the WWII career of my father, George “Red” Stahley, I want to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, Tennessee.  Under the outstanding leadership of Alyce Guthrie, the legacy of the USN’s “Mosquito Fleet” has been beautifully preserved and powerfully promoted.

Check out the website or stop by for a visit if you are ever in the vicinity of Germantown, Tennessee (near Memphis) and see how much more there is to learn about the history of the PT boats, bases, and tenders of the United States Navy.

Dorie Miller with medalDorie Miller

On Monday, January 20, 2020 the US Navy commissioned a CVN-81 aircraft carrier named for Doris “Dorie” Miller– an enlisted sailor who emerged as one of the Navy heroes during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  As the air forces of Imperial Japan unleashed their bombs on the ships anchored at the base, Dorie Miller was serving as a mess attendant on board the USS West Virginia.  As his ship took heavy fire, Miller quickly got to the deck and began assisting the wounded.  He then manned a deck weapon–a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft gun and opened fire on the Japanese planes attacking his ship.  Although he had never been trained on this gun, Dorie operated it well enough to take out one of the attacking planes, possibly more.  He stayed with the gun until it ran out of ammo and the order was given to abandon ship.

For his heroism, Dorie Miller was awarded the Navy Cross.  Only the Medal of Honor would be a higher honor for a member of the US Navy.  In 1943, Miller was serving on the escort carrier, USS Liscome Bay, when it was torpedoed by the Japanese Navy and sunk.  Dorie Miller was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Like my father, Dorie Miller was an enlisted sailor who was proud to wear the uniform of the United States Navy.  Despite his position as a mess attendant, limited to duties like cooking, swabbing decks, and shining the shoes of officers, Dorie Miller’s Navy career embodied the highest ideals of American military service.  Whether it was providing meals for his fellow sailors, assisting wounded comrades while under fire, or operating a deck gun to fend off attacking enemy aircraft,  Miller was prepared to serve every day, even until the last day when his ship was going down in the Pacific.

At this difficult and dangerous time in our nation’s history, the example and legacy of Doris “Dorie” Miller is like a refreshing drink of cool water on a hot, steamy day.  This enlisted sailor from Texas who became a hero on December 7, 1941 and gave his life for our country in 1943 represents the very best of who we are as Americans.

Thank you, Dorie.  I hope we can live up to your example.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 20, 2019

George “Red” Stahley – December 20, 1924

It was on this day in 1924 that my father, George J. Stahley, was born in Philadelphia, PA.  He was the only child of George F. and Mary Young Stahley.  When he passed away in November of 1999 he had not yet reached the age of 75.

At the time of his death, I had not yet started my intensive research on his Navy career but I did have my childhood memories of the stories he shared with me about his days on the PTs.  It was those stories that motivated me to dig deeper and learn more about his military career in WWII.  When I began my work, I didn’t even know that his Navy nickname was “Red.”

And there was so much more.

Remembering my father, “Red” Stahley, on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

In the photo, my father poses with two of his coworkers at Edgecomb Steel in Philadelphia where he worked as a dispatcher in 1948.

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor Day — December 7, 1941

In the early hours of Sunday, December 7th, 1941, the forces of Imperial Japan attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  It was the day that propelled the United States into World War II.

During the chaos and overwhelming destruction that enveloped the American naval forces on that dark day, the crews of several PT boats were able to swing into action and return fire.  The skill, courage, and fighting spirit of those PT sailors embodied the very best qualities of the United States Navy–qualities which attracted other young men from across America to volunteer for service in the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet.

Like so many other high school boys, my father made his decision about entering the US Armed Forces on that tragic day in 1941.  He began counting the days until his high school graduation in 1943 and started checking out what the Navy had to offer.  By the summer of 1944, he was a radio man on the PTs in the Mediterranean.

The photo is from the Mosquito Fleet collection of Frank Andruss.

Posted by: SJS | November 30, 2019

JFK & fellow PT officers

One more photo featuring John F. Kennedy.  This one shows the future president and a group of his fellow PT officers posing before the famous insignia of the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet–the rendering from the Disney studios featuring an intrepid mosquito riding a speeding torpedo.  This striking photo emerged on another WWII blog that has delivered so many photos that I have never seen elsewhere.

The youthfulness of so many of these officers never ceases to amaze me.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | November 23, 2019

JFK in his USN uniform

My thanks to fellow WWII blogger, Ian Phillips, for sharing this striking photograph of John F. Kennedy in his Navy uniform.  I never saw this one before and appreciated receiving it as we mark the 56th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death in Dallas in 1963.  While every Thanksgiving since that momentous year of 1963 has brought a reminder of the loss of Kennedy, it also carries the reminder to be grateful for the sacrifices of all the veterans who have served–and continue to serve our nation.  We have so much to be thankful for!

Posted by: SJS | November 21, 2019

November 22, 1963

JFK on PT 109

On Friday, November 22nd, 1963,  President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  On that day, 56 years ago, I was a 7th grader in Philadelphia.  I distinctly remember the feeling that history was no longer a subject that was confined to textbooks or television documentaries– I was watching it unfold before my eyes.  History, I began to discover on that day, is a fast moving stream that carries all of us along with it.  My teenage years were marked by other high profile assassinations, the deepening of the Cold War, the raging war in Vietnam, and the courageous achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.  And lots more history besides.

While JFK was far from a perfect human being, he served our nation honorably as a Navy officer in World War II and then as an elected member of the House of Representatives and the Senate representing the people of Massachusetts before running for president.  His youthful energy and expansive vision for our country led to accomplishments as varied as landing a man on the moon and the establishment of the Peace Corps.  And lots more historical accomplishments besides those.

I’ll never forget how my life changed on that tragic day 56 years ago–the day I realized that I was living in historic times.  And the history continues to unfold.

Best wishes to all for a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Posted by: SJS | November 9, 2019

Veterans Day 2019

On Monday, November 11th, we honor all the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces over the course of our history.  We thank them for their service to protect all that we hold dear as Americans citizens.

In our family, I am enormously proud of my father George “Red” Stahley who served in the US Navy in World War II as a radio man on the PT boats of the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.  And my sister, Maryellen Stahley Brown who serve in the Army Nurse Corps in the late 1970s.  Both my father and my sister served proudly and reflected the highest values of our nation.

Pictured above are the PT vets who served with President John F. Kennedy when we was the skipper of PT 109 in the South Pacific during WWII.  The photo was snapped at the inauguration day parade of President Kennedy in January of 1961.  I have vivid memories of that cold winter day, watching the parade on television, and swelling with pride as the float holding a reconstructed version of PT 109 dominated the inaugural parade. It was a grand day all around.

We salute all our veterans on this holiday and pledge to them our eternal gratitude.

Posted by: SJS | October 30, 2019

Some PT humor for Halloween

Given the dangers and unwelcome surprises that the PT crews found themselves up against on their nighttime patrols in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific, it just may have been a relief to find a which making her way across the moonlit sky over the water.

My thanks to fellow PT Splinter, David M. Laz, for this perfectly seasonal post on the PT Boat facebook group.

Have a safe and very enjoyable Halloween!

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