Posted by: SJS | February 22, 2017

PT 132 of Squadron (Ron) 21 – A day in the life…

crew-of-pt-132

Yet another photo of a PT boat crew made available to us from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc (thank you, Alyce and Allyson!).  Posing on the deck of their boat in typical PT work attire, this crew in Mindanao, Philippine Islands, seems happy to take a break from the day’s duties to assemble for the photographer.  Among my most treasured photos of my father are from his days with PT 373 of Ron 27-posing with the other members of his crew in pictures very similar to this one.

Without knowing anything about the PT men in this photo, it is still remarkably easy to see the strong spirit of friendship, common purpose, and ease that existed between the crew mates.  Through the days and nights of their shared PT service, they would develop a sense of teamwork that was unparalleled in their  young lives.  The reliance of the sailors on each other often became a matter of life and death.  Being able to count on your mates to do their job competently became vital for survival.  I see a picture like this and I say to myself, “Yeah, they know what they’re doing here.”

The depth of the bond they forged with each other radiates through photos like this impromptu shot of the crew of PT 132.  It’s all in a day’s work–whether it’s swabbing the deck, repairing the hull, or getting ready to go out on night patrol through hostile waters.

If I have the good fortune to see ten more photographs like this one  — or 10,000 — I will savor every opportunity to look at the crew and admire the relaxed courage that shines through those young faces.  These are the faces of the men who won the war in the savage seas of the South Pacific.  Just knowing that my father and his good buddy, Tom Saffles, were among them is a source of great pride within me that swells each time photos like this find their way to me.

 

Posted by: SJS | February 3, 2017

Cutting a fast turn on a wide sea

pt-107-on-a-fast-turn

Among my favorite photos of a PT boat in action is this one of PT 107 beginning a fast turn toward her starboard side.  The raw energy of a PT at full throttle bursts through the photographer’s lens and allows a person to almost feel the momentum of the boat across the water.

Photos like this always take me back to my father’s stories of being on PT 373 when those Packard engines kicked in full bore and his boat bounced like wild over the dangerous waters of the South Pacific.  Those stories are among my earliest–and most cherished–memories of my childhood.  Hearing those stories never got old and every detail thrilled me to my core.

 

Posted by: SJS | January 10, 2017

PT strategy session- New Guinea 1943

pt-crew-debriefing-1943

Few photographs reflect the intensity, informality, and laser focus of a PT crew as does this remarkable shot that was taken in 1943 somewhere in New Guinea in the South Pacific.  Gazing at this group of seasoned vets, all with wisdom and experience beyond their years, I can easily envision my father and his buddy, Tom Saffles, listening intently to their officers and each other about the latest mission and conversing about what they can anticipate on the mission yet to come.  Their youthful vigor and clear-eyed determination suggest that they’re ready for anything.   Everything about this photo conveys the brash courage, can-do spirit, and dedication to teamwork that characterized the Mosquito Fleet.

My thanks to Frank Andruss for making this–and hundreds of other remarkable pictures from his Mosquito Fleet Exhibit–available to us.  Frank’s work in promoting the legacy and heritage of the USN’s PT fleet has been an outstanding contribution to everyone interested in WWII history but especially to those of us who have family members who served on PT boats, bases, and tenders.

Keep up the great work, Frank!  Your efforts are appreciated by more people than you could ever realize.  I urge all who are interested in PT history to visit his website:  The Mosquito Fleet Exhibit.  It is a tremendous resource for us all.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 19, 2016

December 20th, 1924

Mary and Junior 1926

Mary and Junior 1926

Had lung cancer not claimed his life in 1999, perhaps we would be celebrating my father’s 92nd birthday on Tuesday of this week.  I feel his loss most keenly at this time of year, especially since his death occurred on November 13th–just as the holiday season gets underway.  His birthday–coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas–was always a special part of the family celebrations that mark the final weeks of the year.

Through my research into his PT days, I’ve had the chance to meet my father on a new level.  Sharing conversations with men who knew him well and remembered him fondly opened up new dimensions in my connection to him.  The voyage of discovery continues and I am so grateful for the wealth of knowledge and insight that has emerged through the memories of PT veterans who served with my father.  And I am grateful as well to the extended family of my fellow PT “Splinters” who have broadened my understanding of the Mosquito Fleet and its inspiring history.

In the photograph, my father stands with his mother, my grandmother Mary (Nana) Stahley.  In Nana’s face, I can so clearly see traces of my four sisters.  In my father’s face, there are mirror images of my children as toddlers.  Family photos like this one always lead me to a wider appreciation of the precious gifts we have inherited from those who came before us.

Best wishes to all for a happy Christmas, a healthy new year, and a peaceful holiday season Thanks for your continued support.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2016

75th Anniversary of December 7, 1941

nested-pt-boats

On this day in 1941 – a Sunday – George (Red) Stahley was in his junior year at Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, PA.  He told me that shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor he decided he would enlist in the Armed Forces.  At first, he wasn’t sure which branch but he soon settled on the Navy.  He wanted to go right away but was convinced to finish high school and then entered the service as soon as he graduated in the Spring of 1943.

The above photo was shared with me by Randy McConnell (thanks Randy!) and it shows PTs 359 and 358 nested somewhere in the South Pacific.  Red’s closest buddy, Tom Saffles, served aboard PT 359 so it was a real thrill to get this photo and see the boat as it looked when Tom stepped aboard in 1945 to serve as radioman.

December 7th was a day that changed the lives of countless Americans.  We remember with gratitude and respect all those who summoned the courage–and determination–to step forward and serve.  Our debt to them could never be adequately repaid.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | November 20, 2016

JFK RIP – 53 years and we still mourn

JFK 1944

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet during a trip to Dallas Texas.  Although this tragedy occurred over half a century ago, I remember the moment as if it happened yesterday.  I was twelve years old–a seventh grader–and it felt like the world had just been torn apart.  The intensity of those feelings and the level of grief that overwhelmed me were unlike anything I had ever experienced in my young life.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I am experiencing emotions that I have not had to contend with since this time period in 1963.  And this time around, those intense feelings have been–and continue to be–compounded by the fearful communications I receive daily from relatives, friends, and professional associates.  My relatives, friends, and colleagues in the Latino community, the Muslim community, the LGBT community, the immigrant community, and the African-American community are struggling mightily with the hate and threats that have been unleashed across the country since the election.

People are frightened and fearful to a degree I have never before experienced.  The grief and fear that emerged in the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy pales in comparison to what I am seeing these days.

As we mark the anniversary of President Kennedy’s death and prepare for our national holiday of Thanksgiving, may we all step back, take a deep breath, and remember the core values of our beloved nation.  The United States–a nation of immigrants–was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all.  The presidency of JFK embodied the very best of who we are as a people.  How fortunate we were to have as his successor President Lyndon Baines Johnson who preserved and expanded Kennedy’s legacy–especially in the realms of civil rights and voting rights.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I am especially grateful for the memory of the courageous PT Skipper who served with heroism and selflessness during his Navy service in the South Pacific and went on to become the president.  May he rest in peace and may his example inspire and encourage us to always follow the better angels of our nature–as individuals and as a nation.

 

Posted by: SJS | November 7, 2016

A Vet’s Day recollection

chow-lineSo, Dad, what was it like when you first arrived at the PT base in the Mediterranean during the summer of 1944?  Do you remember what your first day was like when you and the other raw PT sailors showed up to join the battle-tested  crews of Squadron (Ron) 15?

I posed the question as my father and I drove north to Philadelphia after he had spent the weekend visiting us in Baltimore.  It was in mid-June in 1994, the summer of the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  Dad had taken the bus down to Baltimore so we could make our annual trip to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles play baseball. We loved going to ballgames together and it was always a high point of the summer for me.

He paused before answering and he seemed to be lost in thought.  It was the first time in years (decades, actually) since I had asked him about his life in the Navy during WWII.  My question was prompted as we drove past the Navy Yard in South Philly on our way up 1-95 on that bright summer day.  The sight of all those mothballed Destroyers and Cruisers got me thinking about Dad’s career on the PTs.

“When we got there, it was all business,” he said.  His words were slow and very deliberate.  “They told us to stow our gear and report to the mess hall.”

You mean they put you on KP first thing? I said, trying to make a joke.  They didn’t even give you guys a chance to get in trouble.

It was as though he did not even hear my words.

“When we got to the mess hall, they told us to put on aprons and dish out the food to the crews that were going out on night patrol,” he said in a voice that was almost flat.

Wow, so you were serving the seasoned vets–the guys who had seen some action.  Did they tell you what it was like?  Did you get a chance to sit with them after you served the meal?  How was it to talk to them?  I had so many questions and they were all tumbling out together.

“Those guys didn’t talk to us; they didn’t even look at us,” he said.  His words came slowly and the tone of voice was one I had never heard before.  “They all sat together and they hardly spoke among themselves,” he said.  “That mess hall was one quiet place.”

Oh, I said.  What happened then?

“Nothing,” he answered.  “When we finished serving, they let us eat, then we washed all the pans, dishes, and other stuff.  Then they told us to report back to our barracks, get squared away, and report back to the mess hall at 5 hundred hours for breakfast.”

So…how did breakfast go the next day?

“Well, that’s when we found out,” my father said.

Found out what?

“Both those PT crews caught it the night before,” he said.  “They were strafed by German fighters. One was blown out of the water, all hands lost.  The other crew was pretty torn up and their boat was in shreds.”  His words came out just above a whisper.  “I put food on the plates of some guys who were eating their last meal on earth,” he said.

My throat went dry and I can still remember holding on to the steering wheel with a grip so tight that it hurt my hands.  It felt like my father was talking to me from a far away place, a place filled with threats, danger, and fear.

“That was when I realized  we were really in a war zone and that each day might be my last.”  he said.  Then he paused and inhaled deeply.  It was several moments before he resumed speaking.

“From that day until the Japanese surrendered in 1945, I was scared stiff.  I knew that this was no game.  On any day, from the air or the land or on the water, the enemy could show up and kill us,” he said.  “And we would have to try to kill them.”

For the rest of the trip, the only sound in the car was the radio broadcast of the Phillies’ ballgame.  I’m pretty sure they were playing the Chicago Cubs.  I was so glad to lose myself in the details of that game–it was a moat welcome distraction.

As we observe Veteran’s Day 2016, let us pause to remember the sacrifices of all who have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States.  And let us remember that we owe them a debt that can never be repaid.  They represent the best that we are as Americans.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | October 31, 2016

The emblem of the MTBRTU

mtbrtu

In March of 1944, the Motor Torpedo Boat Repair Training Unit (MTBRTU) was set up at the PT Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island.  The training unit was intended to give specialized instruction to personnel for PT bases and tenders–the vital support services that played such a major role in keeping the PT boats supplied, repaired, and in the best possible fighting shape.  If the RTU had been established earlier, many of the maintenance and repair problems of the early squadrons could have been avoided.  Fortunately for Red Stahley and Tom Saffles and other PT sailors who served in the South Pacific in 1945, the personnel serving on the PT Tenders and bases were among the best trained in the war.

The emblem design is one of many that Walt Disney donated to the USN.  The fighting PT Mosquito (always wearing that distinctive sailor’s cap) became a powerful symbol that fixed itself in my childhood imagination and–to this day–summons deep wellsprings of pride and gratitude for my father’s heroic service on the PTs of WWII.

This image was shared by PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN on their 2016 calendar.  Their great work in keeping alive the heritage of the Mosquito Fleet is an outstanding service to our nation and our veterans.

 

Posted by: SJS | October 20, 2016

Surrender at Borneo

japanese-prisoners-on-pt-boatFrom the photo archives of PT Boats, Inc., another remarkable photograph, this one of Japanese prisoners on the deck of a PT somewhere in Borneo in 1945.  There was no accompanying information about this photo or who snapped it, other than the reference to Borneo supplied by PT Boats, Inc.

Knowing that my father spent part of 1945 in this area and remembering his stories about transporting Japanese prisoners, photos like this one always have my eyes searching each detail looking for his face.  Who knows, perhaps this was his boat and he was down in the radio room as the picture was snapped!  What I do know is that scenes like this were very familiar to Red Stahley, Tom Saffles,  and all the other PT sailors who were active in the weeks and months after the surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945.

Posted by: SJS | September 30, 2016

In the engine room of a PT

engine-room-motormac

An unnamed crewman sits atop the center engine aboard PT 559 of Ron 29.  This sailor was a “Motormac” — one of the motor machinists who played such an important role in maintaining the Packard engines which gave the PTs their remarkable velocity.  As with all the other PT crewmen, Red Stahley had enormous respect and admiration for the the motormacs who kept the boats running fast and steady.  “Those guys were the unsung heroes of the Mosquito Fleet” he said to me more than once.  “They kept those engines in good shape and when we needed to get out of trouble fast, those motormacs made sure we could.”

This photo is from the extensive archives of PT Boats Incorporated in Germantown Tennessee.

 

Older Posts »

Categories