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!

 

 

Posted by: SJS | June 1, 2018

Royalty aboard the PTs – prepping for D-Day

A few days before D-Day, the British King, George VI, was part of an inspection party that viewed the buildup for the invasion in the harbors of Portland, Plymouth, and Weymouth in England.  In this photo from the archives of PT Boats, Inc., the king is pictured third from the left with British Admirals Strubel, Kirk and  Ramsey standing closest to him.  In the foreground is USN Ensign Sharkey of PT 504 which was part of Squadron (Ron) 34.

As we approach the 74th anniversary of D-Day, it is important to remember the vital roles played by the PTs — both in advance of the invasion and in the middle of the action on June 6, 1944.  Prior to the invasion, the PT boats did mine sweeping work to clear the way for the landing craft.  In the midst of the invasion, PTs were busy rescuing troops that were adrift after their landing craft had been sunk by the German shore batteries.  With their speed and agility, the PTs were able to move rapidly to where they were needed and get the job done almost always before enemy gunners could draw a bead on them.

King George VI was the English Monarch who was the subject of the recent movie The King’s Speech.  After his brother unexpectedly abdicated the throne, George VI was thrust onto the world stage at a pivotal moment in world history.  His courage in overcoming his speech impediment and rallying his besieged nation as the Nazi war machine shifted into high gear were an inspiration to his country and the world.  In this photo, the king’s dignity, resolute nature, and seriousness of purpose shine through as the Allies moved ever closer to that historic day in World War II.

If you haven’t had the chance to see The King’s Speech, I highly recommend it.  It’s worth seeing–at least two or three times!

Posted by: SJS | May 25, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Burial at sea.

A photo that still haunts me every time I see it.

In its grim simplicity and searing honesty, the picture embodies the essence of the holiday we will soon celebrate–Memorial Day.  Officers and enlisted sailors of the USS Intrepid who lost their lives during the battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines are committed to the sea.  The faces and gestures of the sailors convey a solemn dignity and deep reverence for the remains of their shipmates who have made the supreme sacrifice.  If a picture is worth a thousand words then this one is worth at least ten million.

The photograph is the work of Lt. Barrett Gallagher who worked as part of the superb Navy photojournalism team led by Lt. Commander Edward Steichen.  Their body of work captured the spirit of the Navy and Marines who gave their all to win the war against the forces of Imperial Japan in WWII.

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Memorial Day.  May we never forget the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | May 19, 2018

Lookout on the bow

In this undated photo from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., an unidentified crewman sits on the bow of a fast moving PT checking out the way forward and giving guidance to his skipper at the wheel.  Few images better capture the intrepid spirit of the Mosquito Fleet than this one.  The plain fact of PT service was that everybody on board did whatever needed to be done–meeting the immediate need at hand.  Moments before this photo was snapped, this sailor could have been manning the deck gun, working the boat’s radio,  preparing a meal, or tending to the Packard engines that powered the boat.

Because the PTs operated so frequently in shallow waters, it is not surprising that lookouts were occasionally needed to keep a close eye on the treacherous path ahead.  Those waters could be bristling with mines, rocks, or sand bars lurking just under the surface.  In the last months of the war in the Pacific during the spring and summer of 1945 the PTs were operating more frequently as heavily armed gunboats than as torpedo-laden ship hunters.

Red Stahley’s final months in the war were by far the most harrowing and dangerous of his service in the USN.  Being sent on patrols up jungle rivers and fighting the ever more desperate forces of the Imperial Japanese Army, the PT sailors relied ever more heavily on the attributes that had always served them so well–speed, stealth, and teamwork.  As the war drew to a close in the Pacific, they knew that the dangers they faced would never end until Imperial Japan finally surrendered.

Seeing photos like this one, it is so easy to picture my father sitting astride the bow and pointing the way forward.  Like all the other PT sailors, Red was always ready to do whatever needed to be done–all in a day’s work for the sailors of the Navy’s legendary Mosquito Fleet.

 

 

Mary Young Stahley 1926Mary Young Stahley, Red’s mother and my grandmother (“Nana”) was about as Irish as they came in the early part of the 20th century in Philadelphia.  Her parents were both immigrants from Ireland and Mary was the eldest of six children.  Her father was a fireman and her mother was a full time homemaker with her hands full.

In 1918, when Mary was just 13, her mother died when she fell victim to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which moved rapidly through the population and took so many lives in short order.  Mary was forced to leave school in the eighth grade and assume the role of surrogate mother to her five younger siblings.  She never made it to high school but raised her siblings, all of whom lived successful and very good lives.

From that young age, Mary’s life was governed by a strong streak of Irish stoicism with an overpowering awareness of the fragility and briefness of human life.  The optimism and unbounded ambition that characterized the Irish experience of the O’Neill family was nowhere present in the earliest years of George “Red” Stahley.  Life was about a fierce protectiveness and the need to simply survive.

I well remember Nana telling me countless times when I was a child that every day of my father’s Navy service overseas in WWII was pure torture.  Her only child was far away on the front lines in Europe and the South Pacific.  Nana lived in constant dread of receiving that telegram from the War Department or the arrival of the black car at the front door bringing the military officer and the parish priest to deliver the worst news possible.

Something tells me that Red’s survival on the PTs owes more to his mother’s influence than I previously knew.  In his eyes, no German fighter pilot or sailor in the Imperial Japanese Navy was more formidable than Mary Young Stahley.  So surviving and making it home was simply a task that had to be accomplished.

Despite her bright smile and expansive personality, Nana Stahley always carried within her a grim Irish fatalism that knew only too well that human life can be brutal, unforgiving, and cruel.  As I reflect back on her life and all the lives she touched, I can see clearly how well that Irish stoicism served her, my grandfather (Pop). my father and all of us who had the good fortune to be related to her.  Everything for Mary Young Stahley was about survival and taking care of those closest to you.  And her success in that realm was a tribute to her tenacious perseverance, hard work and grit.

We lost her in 1994 at the age of 89.  She lived a remarkable life and most certainly took excellent care of all those she loved.  Her indominatabile influence remains strong and indelible.

The undated photo shows Mary Young Stahley sometime during the 1920s in Philadelphia.  In her smile, I see reflections of my father, several great aunts, cousins and each of my four sisters.

 

 

 

 

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