Posted by: SJS | June 16, 2021

D-Day plus 44

In 1988, 44 years after D-Day, these three Canadian soldiers who were part of the Allied invasion force returned to France. Their names are Bernard, John and Roy. They posed next to a sign marking the town of Caen–a place that saw heavy fighting as the Allied forces moved inland.

Photos like this one always deepen my gratitude for the soldiers and sailors who put everything on the line during some of the most intense fighting that occurred during WWII. These three Canadians survived the war, returned home, and got on with the business of life.

Seeing this photo reminded me that it was only in 1994–a full fifty years after D-Day–that my father began to find his voice and open up about his experiences in WWII. So many members of the Greatest Generation passed away without talking about what they had been through in the war and they took their stories with them to the grave.

Inspection of PT sailors at Melville, Rhode Island

Posted by: SJS | June 6, 2021

D-Day remembered

On June 6th we remember the Allied invasion of Normandy and the incredible heroism of the American, British, and Canadian troops who stormed the beaches of France. Under the leadership of US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, the coordinated assault gave the Allies a foothold in Europe. The rollback of the Nazi war machine on the Western Front was launched and within one year, the Germans had surrendered.

As we do on Memorial Day, we pause on June 6th to honor all the Allied soldiers and sailors who took part in this momentous day, especially those who made the supreme sacrifice and gave their life on D-Day in defense of all we hold dear.

In this archival photo, American troops brace themselves for the arrival of their landing craft on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

Posted by: SJS | May 26, 2021

Memorial Day 2021

A navy honor guard fires a salute

Memorial Day is a powerful reminder of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our nation. May we always be grateful for what they have given to preserve our country. The solemn celebrations that will take place across the United States are important ways of ensuring that those who have died on behalf of us all will not be forgotten.

A navy honor guard folds the flag at a burial

Japanese shells land in Dutch Harbor, Alaska June 4, 1942

As part of a diversionary strategy for their massive naval attack on Midway Island in the South Pacific in early June of 1942, the forces of Imperial Japan shelled the Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. While it was a feint designed to distract Allied attention, the fighting was very real–in the air, on land, and on the water.

Allied forces, including US Marines and Navy ships, along with Canadian military units, were on the front lines in Alaska. By the middle of 1943, they forces of Imperial Japan had been expelled from the Aleutians. And the PTs were there.

My thanks to Pierre Lagrace for sharing this photo from the Aleutian campaign of 1942-43.

Posted by: SJS | May 5, 2021

The WWII battle for Alaska

PT boats of Squadron (Ron) 13

One of the least known fronts of WWII was the Aleutian Islands, an archipelago (or island chain) extending off the mainland of Alaska. In a campaign that ran from June of 1942 to August of 1943, the forces of Imperial Japan contended with the Allies for control of this highly strategic group of islands. PT crews from Squadron (Ron) 13 played a very active part in what turned out to be a critically important victory for the Allied Forces.

In the photograph above, PT boats are berthed in Casco Cove, Massacre Bay, Attu in the Aleutians. In dealing with frigid temperatures and mountainous, rocky terrain, the PT crews faced obstacles that were, at times, as formidable as their Japanese adversaries on the water, in the air, and advancing overland. If Imperial Japan had succeeded in taking the Aleutian Islands, their position in the Pacific Theater would have been strengthened considerably and their ability to launch air strikes against American cities on the West Coast would have been a devastating blow to the United States.

My thanks to Phillip Smithson who shared this photo from the National Archives on a Facebook PT group.

Posted by: SJS | April 28, 2021

New book – highly recommended

Since receiving the new biography of JFK by Frederik Logevall, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917 – 1956, as a Christmas gift from my wife, Lisa, I’ve been deeply immersed in this absorbing volume. For someone who thought he knew “the full story” of our 35th president, Logevall’s highly detailed and beautifully written book clearly demonstrated that I still have a lot to learn.

JFK as a young adult

Of particular interest to me have been the accounts of John Kennedy’s relationships with his father, Joe Kennedy, Sr. and his older brother, Joe Kennedy, Jr. with whom he had a fierce rivalry from their youngest years. It was also a surprise to learn that John Kennedy turned his senior thesis at Harvard into a best seller in the years immediately before World War II. And learning about the enormous influence of his paternal and maternal grandfathers on his political education from a very young age.

Whenever I begin to ration pages in a book I am reading for fear of finishing it too quickly, I know that I’ve made it to a reader’s paradise. Logevall’s JFK biography has taken me to just such a place–and I am already looking forward to the second volume of this masterful endeavor. Clearly, I have a lot more to learn about our 35th president and the era which shaped him.

Posted by: SJS | April 17, 2021

Coming into the dock

Bringing the boat in

In an undated photo, a group of sailors on the deck of a PT boat bring their craft into the dock. The sailor on the bow of the boat hurls a rope to an unseen sailor awaiting the boat’s arrival on the dock. The other sailors on the boat are standing by, ready to do their part to secure their PT upon its arrival.

As with so many of the photos I’ve been fortunate enough to view, this one captures a very ordinary task that made up the daily lives of the PT crews during WWII. While there was no information I was able to locate regarding this photo, the cars in the background may indicate that the picture was snapped somewhere in the United States–perhaps at the PT training center in Melville, Rhode Island.

I always cherish photos like this because it makes it easy for me to imagine my father performing similar duties on his boat, whether it was in the Mediterranean, the South Pacific, or one of the stateside training facilities he was assigned to before he was shipped overseas.

Posted by: SJS | April 9, 2021

Prince Philip — WWII service in the Royal Navy

Prince Philip in WWII

The world woke up to the news today that England’s Prince Philip–the husband of Queen Elizabeth–had passed away at age 99. He lived a long life, most of which was overshadowed by his role in the English royal family. I knew that Philip had served in the British navy during WWII and the news of his death prompted me to take a closer look at his naval career.

As it turns out, Philip was a highly capable and courageous officer in the Royal Navy. His ability to utilize searchlights to target enemy vessels gave his crewmates an advantage during nighttime encounters.

In one celebrated incident in 1943, he defended his ship from a Luftwaffe bomber that clearly had his vessel in its sights. Demonstrating enormous grace under pressure, Philip led his crewmates in hauling a wooden raft across the deck and throwing it overboard with a smoke floater on it, billowing clouds of thick, dense smoke. When the raft hit the water, it burst into flames. The flaming raft drew the attention of the approaching German bomber, distracting it from an attack on the ship.

In the accounts I read, Philip had hoped to make a lifetime career in the Royal Navy. The ascension of his wife to the English throne in 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI, however, caused a major change in plans. Philip and Elizabeth had been married since 1947. As the husband of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth, Philip’s duties became focused exclusively on the ceremonial aspects of life in the royal family.

I’m sure that there were more than a few times over the past 69 years that Philip wished he were on a naval vessel far, far away from life at Buckingham Palace.

Philip’s wartime service in the Royal Navy was admirable and earned him the respect and esteem of his crewmates. Philips naval career is a potent reminder of the valiant work performed by all the sailors who served in the Allied naval forces during World War II.

May he rest in peace.

Prince Philip in later years

The execution of Lepa Radic 1943

Scores of women served on the front lines during WWll. I was reminded of that truth when I recently came across this photograph of the execution of young Lepa Racic by the Nazis in 1943. She served with the Yugoslavian resistance and volunteered to transport wounded fighters from the battlefield. Lepa was captured by the Nazis as she fired at them in an attempt to protect a group of injured partisans who were vulnerable to being taken by the advancing German troops.

Lepa was 17 years old when she was executed. She grew up in a small village in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the war, she served alongside her father and her uncles. The stories of Lepa’s bravery made her a legend and her fame has grown in the years since the war.

As her captors tied the noose around her neck, they offered her a way off the gallows by revealing her comrades and the identity of their leaders. Lepa responded that she was not a traitor to her comrades and that they would reveal their identities when they avenged her death. Her fighting spirit emboldened those who fought beside her.

I was struck when I learned that Lepa was the same age as my father. It was young women and men around the world who put themselves in harm’s way to fight the forces of facism, hate, and racism during World War II. They truly saved the world and entrusted it to us.

At the very least, we owe it to them to continue the fight against the evils that can all to easily reassert themselves and overwhelm all that we hold dear.

Young Lepa Radic

Posted by: SJS | March 5, 2021

PT 157 and her crew

A day in the life of PT 157

This highly revealing photo from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. shows the crew of PT 157 posing for a photographer in the middle of a typical day somewhere in the South Pacific. It looks as though the sailors have been summoned from their tasks so that someone can snap a picture.

Whether they are annoyed at the interruption or pleased for the opportunity to take a break from work is impossible to determine. Looking at their faces and the way they are standing, I have the strong impression that they would prefer to return to the task at hand, whatever that task might be. Photos like this are endlessly fascinating to me because it is so easy for me to picture my father standing among this group.

The faces looking into the camera on the bow deck of the 157convey a mix of seriousness, determination, and weariness from the toll that war takes on sailors and soldiers who know it up close and personal. This photo from an “ordinary” day reveals the extraordinary grit of the PT crews that worked hard to keep their boats–and themselves–ready for whatever they might be called upon to do with very short notice. They were rough, ready, and resilient.

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