Posted by: SJS | September 5, 2018

Annapolis burial of a Navy hero

Whether it was the annual Army-Navy game, an old movie about the US Navy in WWII, or following the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy during 1960, my father relished every opportunity to make contact with his USN roots.  As I checked out the news coverage and photographs of John McCain’s burial at Annapolis on Sunday, I could easily imagine Red’s swelling pride as the Navy laid to rest one of its proudest sons.

I was especially impressed by the prominent role played by the enlisted men–sailors who wore the uniform that my father wore during his time as an enlisted serviceman during WWII.  In their striking whites with the distinctive cap, the Navy’s sailors bore their fallen comrade to his final resting place on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  With immense dignity, solemn reverence, and military precision, the officers and enlisted men reminded us yet again of what is best in our nation.

At a time when we are being ill served and shamefully embarrassed by political leaders, religious institutions, and the avarice of corporate interests, how fortunate we have been over the past two weeks to see what true American greatness is really all about.  The story of John McCain’s heroism, the profound beauty of the military funeral rituals, and impressive family bonds that have held the McCain’s together have borne witness to the deepest values of American life–honor, sacrifice, and duty.

 

Posted by: SJS | August 31, 2018

Rest In Peace, John McCain

As our nation continues to honor the life and service of John McCain we remember in a special way his distinguished career in the United States Navy.  The details of his military service are well known, especially his captivity in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down in 1967.

In the photos above, McCain shakes hands with President Richard Nixon in 1973, revisits the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison where he was held for over five years, and on the flight deck of a US carrier (far right) with fellow Navy airmen in the mid-1960s.

Because of my father’s WWII service in the US Navy, I felt a bond with Senator McCain that I have felt with few other elected leaders.  Knowing how deeply his Navy service influenced his life, his values, and his spirit of service to our country, I am grateful for his presence on the national stage.

May John McCain rest in God’s peace and may his family experience God’s consolation at this time of loss.  We give thanks to God for the life and witness of this fine and decent man who served his country with honor, dignity, and immense courage.

 

 

On Thursday, August 23, the remains of Navy Lt. William F. Liebenow were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  He died last year at age 97.  He is remembered primarily as the commander of PT 157, the man who saved the life of Skipper John F. Kennedy and the other crew members of PT 109 who had survived the destruction of their boat which was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer in August, 1943.

The famous story of Kennedy’s message carved into a coconut, “11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT,” that was carried by two Pacific Islanders to an Australian coast watcher who relayed the message to the US Navy base on the island of Rendova was recounted at the ceremony for Lt. Liebenow.  It was his boat, PT 157 and its crew,  that was sent on the highly dangerous rescue mission behind enemy lines that resulted in the rescue  of Kennedy and his crew.

While the rescue of the PT 109 is the best known story about Lt. Liebenow, his PT career had other equally heroic parts to it.  During the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, the year after the Kennedy rescue, Liebenow commanded a PT boat that rescued more than 60 men from a sinking ship.  Evading the Nazi shore guns, Liebenow again performed heroic service as part of the Allied invasion of France that would turn the tide of the war in Europe.

In 1960,  when Kennedy was running for president. William Liebenow campaigned with him in Michigan.  The epic rescue story from WWII had already become a major part of Kennedy lore and it played a prominent role in the positive publicity for the young Senator Kennedy.  There is a famous story of a Kennedy-Liebenow conversation during the Michigan campaign swing when JFK said he regularly met veterans who swore they were on the boat that rescued him in the South Pacific.

“Lieb,” Kennedy told his old friend, “If I get the votes of everyone that claims to have been on your boat the night of the pickup I’ll win in a landslide.”

Reflecting on the heroic story of William Liebenow and the valiant and selfless service he rendered to our country in WWII, I am reminded yet again of why the memory of the PT sailors commands such respect and admiration. Whether they were officers or enlisted men, they put their lives on the line every time they went out on a mission.  Their service was often in the places where the conflicts were the most intense–Normandy, the Mediterranean, and the South Pacific.  Their adversaries where better armed and often better positioned.  The PT crews relied on their wits, their courage, and each other–as the Liebenow-Kennedy friendship makes clear.  They represented the very best our country had to offer.

My Lt. Liebenow rest in peace and may his family know God’s consolation.  His story will continue to serve as an inspiration for all who love our nation.

 

Posted by: SJS | August 18, 2018

WWII fighting in the Aleutians

WWIi in Aleutians 08-18-2018_11-51-08-378

On August 18, 1943, the USS Abner Read had just finished one leg of its anti-submarine patrol off the shore of Kiska in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and it seemed to be a calm night.  The Japanese had recently evacuated the island but left behind a minefield.  Near 2:00 am, as the destroyer crept along at a low speed, the boat’s stern erupted in a geyser of water.  It had hit a mine which snapped off a large section of its stern, sending that part of the ship and its five-inch gun to the bottom with 70 sailors trapped inside.

This past week, a team of scientists announced they had found the sunken stern and its big gun in 290 feet of water.  No remains of the sailors were recovered.  In one of the war’s great ironies, the bulk of the Abner Read was repaired and sent back into battle in 1944.  The ship was hit again, this time by a Japanese Kamikaze plane and sank off the Philippine island of Samar.

The link I have included shows some photographs that were recently featured in the Washington Post about the Abner Read and its fate in WWII.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the fighting around the Island of Kiska was the only WWII battle on North American soil.  Kiska and the nearby Attu Island are the only US territories to be occupied by foreign forces in the last 200 years.  Kiska was seized by the Japanese in June 1941 and weren’t driven off until July of 1943 after relentless shelling and bombing by US forces.

Along with destroyers, the US Navy had deployed PT boats to the Aleutians.  In doing my research about my father’s service, I was amazed to discover that PTs were a part of naval operations in Alaska during WWII.  While Red Stahley was never assigned there, plenty of other PT sailors found themselves serving in the frigid waters of Alaska.  Learning about PT operations in the Aleutians is something I’m eager to pursue.  If any of my fellow PT Splinters out there have insights or stories to share, please send them in!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | August 6, 2018

Rough and ready

Classic PT pose

In this undated photo from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., four unidentified PT sailors stand on the deck of a boat somewhere in the South Pacific.  In my ongoing research, photos like this are the rule rather than the exception.  The expressions on their young faces exemplify the brash, confident spirit that is so characteristic of the sailors who manned those small, speedy boats and earned such a distinguished place in the history of the US Navy in WWII.

It was enlisted men such as these who, like Red Stahley, always stood ready for whatever assignment came their way.  And it was enlisted men like these who served under skippers like John F. Kennedy and demonstrated the courage, resilience, and strength to endure and survive the destruction and shipwreck of PT 109 which occurred around this time in 1943–75 years ago.

With their youthful enthusiasm and informal approach to Navy traditions, the members of the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet expanded the imagination of the US Armed Forces and served as models for many of the innovative military units that would follow in their wake like the Navy SEALS and other specialized divisions.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | July 17, 2018

Thank you, Senator McCain.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking, servile, and treasonous  behavior earlier today in his Helsinki meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, I defer to the words of John McCain–one of the most distinguished members of the United States Senate, a proud Navy veteran, and a heroic prisoner of war who refused an early release from a North Vietnamese prison to show solidarity with the other American POWs who were held captive with him.  In a statement following the Helsinki summit, Senator McCain called the news conference between Trump and Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”  Senator McCain also stated that “Trump abased himself before a tyrant.”

For those of us whose parents and relatives were part of the generation that served with such distinction in WWII, Trump’s behavior on the world stage today was a source of profound embarrassment and utter revulsion.  To see the president of the United States acting as mindless pack animal being led around by a brutal, thuggish dictator whose primary political ambition is to recreate the failed Soviet empire was a vile insult and a betrayal of the core values we hold and cherish as Americans.

For Trump to side with Putin,  the former KGB agent who authorized the 2016 attack on our electoral process, against the reports of our American intelligence agencies is an act that is blatantly criminal and must not be tolerated.  As I write this, Putin’s operatives are at work to hack the next round of American elections in November of this year  and our “Commander-in-Chief” does nothing to prevent it.  If these are not high crimes and misdemeanors, I would certainly like to know how else to describe them.

There will be a reckoning.  There will be a reckoning and it cannot come soon enough.

Posted by: SJS | July 12, 2018

The roots of NATO–Red Stahley was there.

It was around this time of year in 1944 that newly-minted Radioman 3rd Class Red Stahley was making his way across North Africa on a troop train with other PT sailors of the US Navy to support the operation that would begin in August of that year–the invasion of Southern France.

Seventy four years ago, from PT bases in North Africa and islands in the Mediterranean, the American PTs would collaborate with British Commandos, soldiers of the Free French Army, and Canadian Troopers to wrest control of Southern France from the Nazis.  While the Allied forces were pushing inland following the Normandy Invasion in early June, the fighting in south of France would play a major role in the overall strategy of retaking Europe–one battle at a time.The fighting was intense and often at close quarters.

From the blood and sacrifice and valor of the joint Allied Forces, exhibited so powerfully in the first campaign of which Red Stahley was a part, there would gradually emerge a new coalition.  It would be a coalition of nations that came to embrace and help rebuild postwar Germany.  This coalition would then form a bulwark against the emerging threat represented by the USSR–the Communist Block with Russia as its driving force.  The Soviets had already dropped an Iron Curtain across Europe and threatened the fragile peace that had been purchased at such a cost of life and treasure.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization –NATO–under the steadfast leadership of the United States would serve the world as the guarantor of of peace, stability, and prosperity across the Atlantic with its influence affecting the balance of power through the Cold War and beyond.  For 70 years now, NATO has fulfilled its mission and accomplished untold good for the peace and stability of the entire world.

We are now subjected to the vile, arrogant behavior of a US president who seems to be totally ignorant of twentieth century history and the precious bonds that emerged from WWII and the Cold War between America and her allies.  The disdain and contempt with which Trump treats our strongest allies is a shocking embarrassment and an utter disgrace.  Worse still, it is a foul insult to the memory of my father and the other men & women who put their lives on the line to overthrow fascism and the Nazi menace in WWII.

Trump’s behavior at the recent NATO summit was reprehensible, crude, and downright imbecilic.  His words and actions dishonor the deepest values of our American heritage.  His embrace of thugs, dictators, and international criminals brings disgrace and scorn upon our nation.  When he travels to Helsinki on Monday we must see his meeting with Putin for what it really is–the brutal former KGB agent who runs Russia giving instructions to the useful idiot he helped to become the president of the United States.  Trump is Putin’s chief stooge and asset. His behavior at the NATO summit clearly shows that Trump does everything his Moscow Master tells him to do.  There is no mystery about who is running the show.  The script Trump follows–at home and abroad–comes right from Putin.

We will survive this dark period in our history and there will be a reckoning.  There will be a reckoning.  Too many brave men and women have paid too high a price for us not to surmount this challenge we now face.

How glad I am that my father never lived to see days like these.

 

Posted by: SJS | July 3, 2018

Happy July 4th!

As we celebrate the birthday of our nation, it’s always a good time to remember the valiant service of those who wore the uniform of the United States Armed Forces and put their lives on the line to protect all that we hold dear as Americans.  The young men and women who stepped forward to confront the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII will always be celebrated for their remarkable courage and spirit of sacrifice.  As the proud son of a sailor who fought bravely against both the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese forces in 1944 and 1945, July 4th is a day that fills me with gratitude, reverence, and awe for all that Red Stahley did to preserve this nation for his children and all Americans.

This iconic photo of two PTs captures the elegance and grace of these remarkable boats.  My father relished those moments when PT 373 went full throttle and lifted her bow proudly as she cut through the dangerous waters of the South Pacific.  From the way he would describe those days, it was clear that Red knew he was part of a team that was fully a match for any adversary they might engage with whether on the water, in the air, under the water or on shore.  It was the confidence of the PT crews and it was a force to be reckoned with in every encounter.

Have a happy and safe holiday and always remember those who made it possible for us to continue our celebration of this amazing day.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 21, 2018

Ike on board – June 24, 1944

On D-day plus 18 (June 24th), PT 518 of Squadron (Ron) 35 was chosen to bring Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the coast of France to survey the progress of the invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy.  Also on board that day were ADM Allen Kirk of Naval Operations Normandy Invasion and ADM Ramsey, Chief of British Naval Forces.

The sprawling story of the Allied Invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944 cannot be told without reference to the vital role played by the PT crews.

Within two months of the date of this photo, PT squadrons would be heavily involved in the liberation of Southern France in collaboration with allied troops from multiple nations.  Red Stahley, along with other newly trained PT sailors, would land in Northern Africa and make their way east on troop trains and take up their positions on the front lines of the war against Nazi Germany.

As part of the vast arsenal at his command, the PT boats would continue to play a crucial role for General Eisenhower through the remainder of 1944 as the campaign against Hitler’s war machine drove relentlessly toward Berlin.

This photo is from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 16, 2018

Happy Father’s Day

Baby Jr with Pop

My grandfather, George F. Stahley, holds his son, my father, George J. Stahley in May of 1925.  At the time of the photo, my father was six months of age and my grandfather was a few months shy of his twentieth birthday.  The picture was taken somewhere in Philadelphia.

The gentle strength and quiet dignity of my grandfather, “Pop” Stahley, come through beautifully in this photograph.  His impact on my life and early development would be impossible to overestimate.  We shared the same birthday–August 14th–and the bond between us was a sustaining force for me on many levels.  His death in 1969, a week before our mutual birthday, was the most devastating loss I had ever experienced to that point in my life.  When I turned 18 a week later, the world felt like a colder and much emptier place.

Coming across this photo in the family archives reminded me of all I have to be grateful for on this Father’s Day.  As vastly different as were my grandfather and my father, the two of them gave me their best and equipped me superbly for the life that lay before me when I arrived on the scene in 1951.

A happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers out there!

 

 

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