Posted by: SJS | February 13, 2018

Squadron (Ron) 4 Emblem

Ron 4 Emblem

Based in Melville, Rhode Island, at the PT Training Center, Squadron (Ron) 4 was the unit that gave the PT sailors their first taste of life on a PT boat.  The insignia of Ron 4 included the iconic mosquito image, in this picture cast as the wise instructor teaching the junior bugs the finer points of their boat.  This picture is courtesy of PT Boats, Inc.  As proud as the PT sailors were of their special role in the USN, they never took themselves too seriously.

On July 20, 1944 there was a failed attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler.  This event occurred during the same summer my father arrived at his first USN posting in the Mediterranean when PT boats would play a key role in the liberation of Southern France.  As he served on the PT base radio unit, it did not take long for Red to see how formidable was the enemy he faced.  German fighter planes and E-boats made every PT sailor realize that no place was safe either on the water or on land.

Within Germany that summer, the failed assassination attempt involved members of the German military, the diplomatic corps, and a young Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The conspiracy of resistance to the tyrannical dictator came tantalizingly close to ending the life of the Nazi  despot who was responsible for the deaths of millions during his reign of terror.   As it was, Hitler survived and unleashed the Gestapo to track down, torture, and execute all who had been involved in the plot to take him out.  Bonhoeffer was arrested, moved among prisons in Berlin and German concentration camps, tortured, and executed in the spring of 1945.  Within two weeks of his death, Allied forces liberated the camp where he had been murdered.  The Gestapo thugs executed the conspirators slowly, over several hours, using piano wire.

As a pastor and a gifted theologian, the decision to join a conspiracy to kill Hitler came as a result of an agonizing process of discernment for Bonhoeffer.  When he came to realize the full scope of the Nazi plan for “the Final Solution” -the complete extermination of the Jewish community in Europe- the young pastor decided that he had no choice.  Praying and preaching were not enough.  Young Dietrich threw in his lot with the conspirators who were determined to eliminate Hitler regardless of the consequences.   When I was studying the theological writings of Bonhoeffer in school, I remember asking my father about him.  “Those guys were brave,” my father said “as brave as any of the guys I served with on the PTs.”  Coming from Red, there was no higher praise that could be given.

On this national holiday when we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is good to remember the life of another Christian martyr who served as an inspiration to King–Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And at the current time when the White House is occupied by a man who has earned the endorsement of Neo-Nazi groups and has become a hero to the Ku Klux Klan and uses the term “shithole” to describe nations (and an entire continent)–we need to highlight the contributions of champions like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who gave their lives in opposition to racism and hate.

We need to reclaim and protect the ideals that have already made America great.  Going forward, let us honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and recommit ourselves to the values for which he lived and died.

Posted by: SJS | January 12, 2018

Red Stahley hated racism–and so do I

How glad I am that my father did not live to see the vile, vulgar and racist behavior of the current American president.  Red’s first taste of war in the Mediterranean was against the Nazi war machine and he was always very clear about what he was fighting for–and against.   When our family moved to a new home in 1964 in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, he was repulsed by the anti-Semitic vandalism that some of our new neighbors had to endure.

“I put my life on the line to fight this s___” he said more than once. I was well acquainted with my father’s anger but nothing upset him more than racism.  He was deeply proud of his service in WWII to counter the fascist tide that was threatening the world.  He had more close encounters with death than any of us knew–things I only found out as I did research for this blog long after his death.  I will be proud of his service every day of my life.  And every day, I grow more grateful and feel a growing obligation to honor his service.

I can only begin to imagine what Red would say in response to the most recent comments of a repulsive bigot like Donald Trump who defends Neo-Nazis and has earned high approval ratings from the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist scum.   With each new day, Trump brings greater levels of disgrace and dishonor to the office he holds and to the country we love.  What more evidence do we need about his incompetence, stupidity, and destructiveness?

As the proud son of a distinguished PT Veteran I say we’ve had enough of Nazism, racism, and hate.  If nothing else, I owe it to the memory of my father to do whatever I can to stand up against the tide of fascism, bigotry, and racist hatred that is now threatening our own country and the ideals of the American republic.

It’s time to  rise up and reclaim our democracy.

Let’s get busy.

Posted by: SJS | January 3, 2018

Cliff Robertson in PT 109

It was the late summer of 1963 and our grandparents had just brought my sisters and I back to Dayton, Ohio where our family was living at the time.  We had spent the summer visiting with our extended family in Philadelphia and it was time for us to readjust to Ohio and prepare for the new school year.  We were still getting used to Ohio after moving there in January of that year and being back in Philly with all our cousins was like a dream.  So the return to Dayton was not an entirely happy experience, but we made the best of it.  The prospect of a new school year in a city that was still unfamiliar so far from our old hometown was daunting and a bit depressing.

As a reward for good behavior on the long drive to Dayton, our grandparents promised us that there would be some surprises awaiting us in Dayton.  It turned out that my surprise was a trip to the movies to see an epic film about the wartime heroics of then President John F. Kennedy and his crew mates on PT 109.  Seeing the dramatic story of JFK–portrayed by actor Cliff Robertson–and his crew on the 109 unfold before me on the big screen in that darkened theater were an overwhelming experience.  The movie, based on the actual events of 1943, brought me powerfully into the world my father had known during his days in Squadron (Ron) 27.  The sights and sounds, the danger and surprises, the bond between the PT sailors and the determined enemy they confronted were all real to me in a new and profoundly vivid way.

Leaving the theater that evening, my eleven-year old mind wasn’t sure whether it was in Dayton, Philadelphia, or islands of the South Pacific in the summer of 1943.   For two hours, it felt like I was on the boat and in the churning waters of the South Pacific.  I could almost taste the saltwater in my mouth.  On the ride home from the theater, I gradually settled back into the reality of my current situation but with a new perspective on it.  If those valiant PT sailors with JFK could survive the destruction of their boat and the hostile waters of the South Pacific, then I could surely handle whatever challenges lay before me.  And so I did!  The inspiration I drew from that cinematic experience helped me in more ways than I realized–and it came at exactly the right time.

The PT 109 poster was supplied courtesy of PT Boats, Incorporated in Germantown, TN.

Posted by: SJS | December 20, 2017

Happy 93rd, Red!

 

Red Stahley HS graduation

 

On this day in 1924, George “Red” Stahley was born in Philadelphia, PA.  He was the only child of George F. and Mary Young Stahley.  If he were still with his, we would be celebrating his 93rd birthday today.  I can hardly believe that he’s been gone now for over 17 years.   One of the most rewarding things about my research into his Navy career on the PT boats of WWII has been the opportunity to discover so much about him that I never knew or fully understood.  This voyage of discovery has connected me with people all across the country who have expanded and deepened my understanding of the PT service and, in so doing, have brought me greater insight into the pivotal experience of my father’s life.  And the learning continues.

Red as a high school senior (1943) and in his official USN photo (1944).

Red in dress blues, hatless

 

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2017

Day of decision

It was on this day in December of 1941 that George J. Stahley made the decision that he would enlist in the US Navy as soon as he graduated from high school.  It was Sunday, December 7th, the day that the air force of Imperial Japan bombed Navy ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  While he may have shared his decision with a few close friends, he did not inform his parents until much later.  Like so many of his generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point–perhaps the major turning point–in his life.  At the time, he was a junior at North Catholic High School in Philadelphia.  From that day forward, his mind was focused on finishing high school and entering the service.

In this photo, the USS Arizona burns furiously in the wake of the attack.  To the left of the Arizona are the USS Tennessee and the USS West Virginia; both ships were already hit and going down.

Posted by: SJS | December 4, 2017

Ron 40 is commissioned

In this photo from the National Archives, Squadron (Ron) 40 is commissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard.  Unlike other USN ships, PTs were commissioned as part of an entire squadron.  The photo shows the officers and enlisted men in their dress blues–always an impressive sight to see.  The photo is undated but my guess is that it was snapped sometime in early 1945.

In his final assignment, Red Stahley was assigned to Ron 40 and was part of the crew of PT 589.  His service in this squadron came after the war had formally ended with the surrender of Imperial Japan.  With the hostilities ended, Red’s days in Ron 40 were the easiest days of his PT service.  In the summer of 1945, PT sailors went through a wild roller coaster of emotions as they anticipated being a part of the invasion force that would take the war to the Japanese mainland and then learned of the Japanese surrender in August of that year.  It’s hard to imagine the level of relief they surely felt when they learned that the horrors of war were finally going to end.

 

Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2017

11/22/63 JFK RIP

It was 54 years ago on this day in Dallas that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Like so many of my generation, the events of that day are frozen in memory and the feelings of overwhelming loss and grief still feel fresh–even after the passage of more than half a century.  Over the course of that tragic November Friday in 1963, the world became a darker, more severe place.  By the time I went to bed that night, I felt like a twelve year old boy on the verge of turning forty.

I was pleased to find this quote from JFK and I knew instantly that his words rang true for my father.  Like Kennedy, my father deeply treasured his Navy experience and felt a special bond with all his fellow PT veterans–especially those who had seen action in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.

On this day of special remembrance, we honor the legacy of President Kennedy and we salute his valiant service in the Mosquito Fleet of the US Navy.

 

Posted by: SJS | November 17, 2017

RON 15 foul weather gear

Two unidentified officers of PT Squadron (RON) 15 pose for a photo in their cold weather jackets somewhere in the Mediterranean.  This picture was probably taken sometime in 1944.

For years after he left the navy, Red kept getting good use out of his Navy jacket when the weather turned cold in Philadelphia.  I can well remember how proud he was of that jacket.  As I reflect back on those days, I now realize that when my father slipped that jacket on it was doing more than just keeping him warm.  It was a powerful link of his days in the Med and all that he had experienced there with his fellow sailors.  He wore that Navy jacket for years until it became threadbare.  I wish I knew what became of it.

And these sailors who are unnamed–I wonder if Red served with them during that fateful year.  So many questions.  Every new photo seems to open another door.  And the journey of discovery keeps getting better. My thanks for the good folks at PT Boats, Inc., who have made photos like this available to us.

Best wishes to you and yours for a very happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Posted by: SJS | November 8, 2017

Salute to our veterans

While we pay tribute to all who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces on Veterans Day this Saturday,  November 11th, we are mindful in special way of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.   I was moved to see this photo of a US Navy honor guard firing a salute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  My trips to this hallowed place always fill me with wordless gratitude and a sense of awe for the enormous sacrifices that have been made by so many over the course of our nation’s history.

It is a place of reverence, honor, and tremendous dignity.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit these hallowed grounds, I can promise you it will be a trip you will be glad you made.  You will never forget what you experience there.

So on this Veterans Day 2017, we salute all the vets–past and present–who have stepped forward to serve us and protect our country.  You make us proud and we could never thank you enough!

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