Posted by: SJS | January 18, 2022

The PTs in color

Tethered to a Tender

Another striking photograph from the collection shared by Robert Wayne Camp on a Facebook group devoted to the legacy of the PT boats.

While there were no dates or details shared about this photo, it seems that these PTs are lined up next to a PT tender ship awaiting repairs or service. Perhaps one of my fellow PT splinters out there can provide additional information about the location and squadron (Ron) to which these PTs belong.

The high quality of the color photo brings a note of vividness to the PTs and what they carried on their decks. Every new photo I come across expands the range of my knowledge and deepens my appreciation for the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” and the remarkable crews that manned them.

With thanks again to Robert Wayne Camp who generously shared a wealth of photos with all of us–a true treasure trove of PT history.

Posted by: SJS | January 4, 2022

RON 36 insignia

The fighting mosquito mascot of Squadron (RON) 36 speaks volumes about the attitude and determination of the PT crews that proudly displayed this image as the emblem of their unit.

RON 36 means business!

My thanks to Robert Wayne Camp who shared this photo along with a treasure trove of other PT photos on a facebook group devoted to the legacy of The Navy’s Mosquito Fleet. It will be my privilege to share many of those amazing photos in future posts.

The original “Mosquito” Mascot was generated at the request of the US Navy by the cartoon genius of Walt Disney Studios. That portrayal of a mosquito riding a torpedo struck a responsive chord in the scrappy, aggressive, brash young men who volunteered to serve on the PT boats and fully embrace all the risks, danger, and excitement that came with the job.

As much as any other PT sailor, Red Stahley was deeply proud of every part of the PT legacy–especially that funny, belligerent mosquito who loved nothing more than riding a speeding torpedo to its unfortunate target. All those young crewmen saw a part of themselves in that determined, fearless insect who welcome every challenge that came their way.

Posted by: SJS | December 19, 2021

Red Stahley at 97

Mary Young Stahley with son, George, in early 1925

George J. Stahley was born on December 20, 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up as an only child and came of age as the United States entered WWII. His experience in the US Navy as a sailor on the Navy’s PT Boats (“The Mosquito Fleet”) in North Africa/Southern Europe in 1944 and the South Pacific in 1945 became the defining experiences of his life.

As I have come to learn about his Navy career, my understanding of my father has deepened in ways I could never have anticipated as I began my serious research into his military service beginning in 2011. With the assistance of the outstanding PT veterans’ organization, PT Boats, Inc., his military records obtained from the US Military Archives, and the contacts I have made through this blog, I have learned an enormous amount–further than my imagination could ever have stretched. My father’s Navy friendships, his courage, his mischievous sense of humor, his trauma, his technical communication skills, and his coolness under fire, were all revelations that found their way to me long after his death in 1999, a few weeks short of his seventy-fifth birthday.

There were so many questions I never had the opportunity to ask him before his death in November of 1999. In one of our final, brief conversations before he passed away, I promised my father that I would write about his PT service. At that point, I was not even sure if he understood what I was saying, but it didn’t matter. It was a sacred promise and it has been a promise that I’ve kept. And in the process, I learned that there was so much more to his PT days than the stories he had shared with me when I was a very young boy.

The vast privilege of learning about him and writing about his Navy days have been deeply rewarding, immensely gratifying, and a true voyage of discovery about him, and myself as well.

Happy birthday, Red. Thanks for everything.

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2021

Pearl Harbor Day

David Russell, Pearl Harbor survivor, 101 years old

On December 7, 1941, David Russell was a young sailor assigned to the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As the surprise attack overwhelmed the American ships, young Russell made a split second decision not to go below deck on his ship. Trained as an ammunition loader for anti-aircraft guns, the Seaman First Class opted to stay on deck and find a gunner to assist. His decision to stay on deck that morning is probably the reason Russell survived.

As the USS Oklahoma was hit by multiple torpedo bombs dropped by the planes of Imperial Japan, the battleship would eventually capsize. Over 400 sailors and Marines below deck were killed. Seaman Russell knew he had to get off the Oklahoma. He could see the oily water burning all around his battleship which was being repeatedly hit. Jumping into the flaming water was not an option. Seeing a hanging rope on the neighboring battleship, the USS Maryland, the young sailor jumped and caught hold of the rope and swung onto the deck of the Maryland. Once he was safely on deck there, Russell continued to look for antiaircraft gunners to help with ammunition loading.

David Russell, now 101 years old, will be in Pearl Harbor for this year’s anniversary celebration. His courage, ingenuity, and determination were the qualities that would become emblematic of the sailors who would serve in the US Navy and play a major role in the victory of the Allied Forces in WWII.

Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2021

58 years post November 22, 1963

JFK in the Oval Office with a model of PT 109

On that fateful day in Dallas 58 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade passed through the city. The shock of that day’s events have never quite worn off for me and for many others of my generation. The history of JFK’s service on the Navy’s PT boats made his murder feel intense and personal because of my father’s Navy career on the PTs in the South Pacific.

When I woke up on November 22, 1963, I was a twelve year-old seventh grader in a parochial school in Philadelphia. When I went to bed that night, I felt very, very old and found it impossible to fall asleep. The world suddenly felt like a dangerous place, full of random violence and haunted by grief. The phrase “normal life” lost its meaning on that day and, for me, that meaning never returned.

The inescapable irony of human life overwhelmed my awareness on that fateful day fifty-eight years ago. The bitter side of irony, something the Irish know only too well, made itself known to me on that terrible Friday. John F. Kennedy survived serious health problems as a child and a young man. He survived his WWII experience in the South Pacific when his boat was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer. He lost his life in public setting on a Dallas street in broad daylight after being shot by an unseen gunman.

Tragedy, irony, and randomness are part and parcel of human life. There is no escaping their presence in the human experience. That lesson began to take hold on November 22, 1963. It was a lot to absorb at age twelve. Fifty-eight years later, I find that I am still on a steep learning curve about those realities.

It is a mercy that our great national holiday of Thanksgiving always arrives so quickly after we are reminded of the loss of President Kennedy so many years ago. Despite tragedies, random violence, and the cruel ironies that visit us from time to time, we have much for which to be thankful. May we never lose sight of our blessings or take them for granted.

Best wishes to you and yours for a joyful and tranquil Thanksgiving.

Posted by: SJS | November 17, 2021

PT 234

A stunning painting of PT 234

My thanks to Phil Johnson who shared this powerfully beautiful painting of PT 234 heading out to sea. We are both members of a Facebook group dedicated to the legacy of the PT boats. At first glance, I thought I was looking at a colorized photograph, the rendering is so precise and detailed.

I am most fortunate to belong to several PT groups that are generous in sharing photos, memories, artifacts, and paintings of the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet. When I began this blog in 2011, I could never have imagined how much it would expand my understanding of PT history and the amazing men who wrote a new chapter in the impressive history of the US Navy.

Posted by: SJS | November 9, 2021

Veterans Day 2021

As we prepare to celebrate Veterans Day on Thursday of this week (November 11th), we remember all our fellow citizens who have worn the uniform of the US Military since our nation was born in 1776. We honor their service, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer our thanks for their dedication and courage on our behalf.

In addition to the established meaning of the day, it holds a special place in my memory because it falls on a Thursday this year. It was on Thursday, November 11th of 1999 that I had my last visit with my father at a hospice near Philadelphia. After driving up from Baltimore that day, I joined my mother and my four sisters at Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor, PA where we had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with my father.

Red’s health was declining rapidly. The ravages of the lung cancer detected in July of that year had taken a heavy toll. We knew that his death was imminent. It felt like he was living on borrowed time.

That final afternoon visit with my father in the presence of my mother and sisters was among the most memorable experiences of my entire life. My father was pain free, in good spirits, and his sense of humor was as sharp as ever. What I remember most about that last visit was the strong sense of peace, joy, and gratitude that filled his hospice room.

Red Stahley was in a good place on Thursday, November 11, 1999. And he invited us into that charmed place. For a few hours, there was no family tension, no negative words, and not a trace of sadness. Leaving his room, I felt sure I would see him again in a few days. His energy level was at its highest in weeks and his frame of mind was in excellent shape.

I returned to Baltimore early on Friday morning, November 12th. And it was in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 13th, that the call came from my mother and my sister, Marguerite, that our father had passed away peacefully. As the waves of grief and loss began to sweep over me, I held tightly to my memory of that final visit with him on Veterans Day, November 11th.

That memory helped me to weather the days, weeks, and months that followed when the grief felt like a raging storm on a deep, dark sea.

And so the celebration of Veterans Day every year brings with it the beautiful memory of my final hours with Red Stahley–a good and decent man, a brave veteran, a great father, and a distinguished crewman on the PT boats of the US Navy.

And that is quite a legacy.

The Stahley Family in 1961, Parents George & Rita. L-R: Maryellen, Teresa, Marguerite, Joan, Stephen.
Posted by: SJS | October 26, 2021

Restored PT boat: the 658

A beautifully restored PT boat in camouflaged colors and bristling with deck weaponry shows what a formidable fighting machine the PTs had become by the end of WWII. The 658 carries torpedoes, depth charges, and a smoke generator on its loaded deck–prepared for whatever challenge may arise. The color photograph does an excellent job of showing all the dimensions of these remarkable boats in the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet.”

Posted by: SJS | October 9, 2021

Packard engine hoisted into place

PT crewmen maneuver a Packard engine into place on a PT boat

The PTs were powered by three Packard Engines–two astern (back of the boat) and one amidships (center). The Packards were centrifugal gear driven, 100 octane, gas line-fueled, water cooled engines. The photo illustrates the size of one engine as it is carefully lowered into place on a PT boat. The enormous horsepower generated by these engines accounted for the rapid acceleration rate and speed over the water that were the hallmarks of the Mosquito Fleet.

The highly trained PT crewmembers called “Motor Macs” (engine mechanics) were entrusted with the task of keeping the Packards in peak operating condition. Their good work–often under very challenging conditions–played a vital role in making the PTs as effective as they were.

Red Stahley always spoke in glowing terms about his Motor Mac mates who ensured that PT 373 remained fast and maneuverable during his days as part of that crew.

Posted by: SJS | September 26, 2021

Torpedoes away

Torpedoes launched from the deck of a PT boat

What a thrill it was to come across this photo of a PT boat on a training run in American waters firing off two torpedoes from its deck as the boat moves ahead at full throttle. My thanks to Al Cuneo for posting this remarkable photo on a PT Facebook group to which we both belong.

While many of the sources I have consulted over the years have detailed the problems confronted by the PT crews when the torpedoes veered off course or failed to launch as intended, enough of the “fish,” as the torpedoes were called, found their targets and inflicted great harm on enemy vessels, especially barges that were heavy laden with supplies.

By the time Red Stahley was assigned to regular PT boat patrols in the South Pacific aboard the 373, the crews were relying more heavily on their deck guns than torpedoes for missions that took them up jungle rivers and into close proximity with enemy positions that were heavily fortified on land.

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