Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2017

Day of decision

It was on this day in December of 1941 that George J. Stahley made the decision that he would enlist in the US Navy as soon as he graduated from high school.  It was Sunday, December 7th, the day that the air force of Imperial Japan bombed Navy ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  While he may have shared his decision with a few close friends, he did not inform his parents until much later.  Like so many of his generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point–perhaps the major turning point–in his life.  At the time, he was a junior at North Catholic High School in Philadelphia.  From that day forward, his mind was focused on finishing high school and entering the service.

In this photo, the USS Arizona burns furiously in the wake of the attack.  To the left of the Arizona are the USS Tennessee and the USS West Virginia; both ships were already hit and going down.

Posted by: SJS | December 4, 2017

Ron 40 is commissioned

In this photo from the National Archives, Squadron (Ron) 40 is commissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard.  Unlike other USN ships, PTs were commissioned as part of an entire squadron.  The photo shows the officers and enlisted men in their dress blues–always an impressive sight to see.  The photo is undated but my guess is that it was snapped sometime in early 1945.

In his final assignment, Red Stahley was assigned to Ron 40 and was part of the crew of PT 589.  His service in this squadron came after the war had formally ended with the surrender of Imperial Japan.  With the hostilities ended, Red’s days in Ron 40 were the easiest days of his PT service.  In the summer of 1945, PT sailors went through a wild roller coaster of emotions as they anticipated being a part of the invasion force that would take the war to the Japanese mainland and then learned of the Japanese surrender in August of that year.  It’s hard to imagine the level of relief they surely felt when they learned that the horrors of war were finally going to end.

 

Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2017

11/22/63 JFK RIP

It was 54 years ago on this day in Dallas that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Like so many of my generation, the events of that day are frozen in memory and the feelings of overwhelming loss and grief still feel fresh–even after the passage of more than half a century.  Over the course of that tragic November Friday in 1963, the world became a darker, more severe place.  By the time I went to bed that night, I felt like a twelve year old boy on the verge of turning forty.

I was pleased to find this quote from JFK and I knew instantly that his words rang true for my father.  Like Kennedy, my father deeply treasured his Navy experience and felt a special bond with all his fellow PT veterans–especially those who had seen action in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.

On this day of special remembrance, we honor the legacy of President Kennedy and we salute his valiant service in the Mosquito Fleet of the US Navy.

 

Posted by: SJS | November 17, 2017

RON 15 foul weather gear

Two unidentified officers of PT Squadron (RON) 15 pose for a photo in their cold weather jackets somewhere in the Mediterranean.  This picture was probably taken sometime in 1944.

For years after he left the navy, Red kept getting good use out of his Navy jacket when the weather turned cold in Philadelphia.  I can well remember how proud he was of that jacket.  As I reflect back on those days, I now realize that when my father slipped that jacket on it was doing more than just keeping him warm.  It was a powerful link of his days in the Med and all that he had experienced there with his fellow sailors.  He wore that Navy jacket for years until it became threadbare.  I wish I knew what became of it.

And these sailors who are unnamed–I wonder if Red served with them during that fateful year.  So many questions.  Every new photo seems to open another door.  And the journey of discovery keeps getting better. My thanks for the good folks at PT Boats, Inc., who have made photos like this available to us.

Best wishes to you and yours for a very happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Posted by: SJS | November 8, 2017

Salute to our veterans

While we pay tribute to all who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces on Veterans Day this Saturday,  November 11th, we are mindful in special way of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.   I was moved to see this photo of a US Navy honor guard firing a salute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  My trips to this hallowed place always fill me with wordless gratitude and a sense of awe for the enormous sacrifices that have been made by so many over the course of our nation’s history.

It is a place of reverence, honor, and tremendous dignity.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit these hallowed grounds, I can promise you it will be a trip you will be glad you made.  You will never forget what you experience there.

So on this Veterans Day 2017, we salute all the vets–past and present–who have stepped forward to serve us and protect our country.  You make us proud and we could never thank you enough!

Posted by: SJS | October 18, 2017

Herman the cat – APG mascot

The crew of an unnamed PT Tender poses for a photo with their mascot–Herman the cat.  The caption reads “McVicker holds the feline mascot Herman.”  I’ve lost track of the number of PT photos I’ve seen that include one of their cherished mascots–whether it’s a dog, a monkey, or a cat.  In the midst of the horrors and chaos of war, caring for a pet must have been a welcome distraction for these men.  The story of my father’s brief pet experience with a spider monkey (which I’ve written about in a previous post) was too brief and disruptive to even give the little guy a name.  Knowing how much my father loved dogs, I still can’t figure out why he didn’t get a dog.  With the monkey–maybe the price was right and there were just no pups available on that unusual day.

Again, my thanks to PT Boats, Inc. for furnishing this beautiful photo.  If you haven’t yet checked out the website for PT Boats, Inc., you should definitely go there.  And if you happen to be anywhere near Germantown, Tennessee (near Memphis)  you should give Alyce a call and stop by.  You will be glad you did!

Posted by: SJS | October 3, 2017

MTBRTU in Melville, RI

mtbrtu

In March of 1944, the Motor Torpedo Boat Repair Training Unit (MTBRTU) was set up at the Training Center (MTBSTC) in Melville, Rhode Island.  Known at the “Annapolis of the PTs,” Melville was place were PT officers and enlisted men received the hands-on training that prepared them for all things PT-related.

The MTBRTU was designed to give specialized instruction to personnel for PT bases and tenders.  By early 1944, many of the repair and maintenance problems of the early PT squadrons were well documented and the need for a specialized training unit had become very obvious.  Over the course of the final year of the war, the skills and courage of the crewmen on the PT tenders and bases contributed mightily to the effectiveness of the PTs–especially in the South Pacific.

The insignia design for the MTBSTC came from the studios of Walt Disney and was donated to the US Navy.  Disney had a crew of artists who worked exclusively on making insignias for military units–a true contribution to the war effort of the US Armed Forces.

The bold mosquito clutching a tool box while supporting a portable dry dock for a PT boat needing repair speaks volumes about the spirit of the PTs and the dedicated sailors who ensured that these remarkable boats remained in fighting trim for whatever challenges came their way.

These images were supplied by PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN.  Thanks Alyce and Alison for all your great work!  You’re the absolute best.

Posted by: SJS | September 25, 2017

Scanning the horizon

On the lookout from a PT deck

Two PT sailors sit on the deck as one scans the open sea for signs of trouble.  Their machine gun is at the ready and the look on the face of the near sailor conveys a mixture of intensity and alertness.  Clearly, these are two crewmen who have seen action and are taking nothing for granted.

It is photos like this one from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., that instruct me so powerfully on the day-to-day reality of my father’s Navy days in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.  Regardless of their specific training and assigned duties (mechanic, radioman, cook, etc.), every crewmember took their turn doing everything else on the PTs boats. Whether it was swabbing the decks or stepping behind the Twin-50 machine gun in response to an enemy attack, it was understood that everybody was ready for anything at any time.

Every new photo I come across feels like another key that unlocks another door–and what a journey it has been!

Posted by: SJS | September 8, 2017

Transporting prisoners at war’s end

In the late summer of 1945, among other duties, PT boats were used to transport Japanese prisoners from one location to another.  This photograph from PT Boats, Inc., shows the crowded deck of an unnamed PT boat filled with Japanese soldiers.  I well remember my father telling me how strange it felt to be carrying surrendered enemy troops across the water to their assigned destinations.  Just weeks before they shared space on the crowded PT deck, these men were doing their best to kill each other. But now the war was over and it was time for the PT crews to get accustomed to another set of responsibilities.  As they did with everything else, the PT sailors adapted to their new situation and did their job with professionalism and equanimity.

As the summer turned to autumn and my father was transferred from Squadron (Ron) 27 to Ron 40, the transport work became routine and my father began to anticipate the end of his days in the Navy which occurred in early 1946.   His experience as sailor assigned to transport duty made a profound impact him. From the way he told the stories, I had a strong sense that his contact with these prisoners gave him a deep sense of their humanity and a respect for the dignified way that they handled themselves.  As with all of his WWII experiences, Red Stahley’s final days on the PTs was a transformative time in his young life.

As a 19-year old newly minted PT radioman, my father was assigned to various PT bases in North Africa and on Mediterranean islands.  His first taste of war arrived with German fighter planes strafing Allied positions on sea and land.  As a part of the distinguished PT  Squadron (Ron) 15, he played a role in the invasion of Southern France which occurred in the late summer of 1944.  In conjunction with British and French troops, the liberation of France begun on D-Day (June 6, 1944) continued with the Allied thrust along the Mediterranean coast.  Red’s early experience of war, of which I know very little, had a major impact on his young life and shook him the core of his being.

One of my strongest memories from childhood is how powerfully he would react to any image of the Swastika–the infamous symbol on the German flag from the war years.  Nothing would set him off more quickly than seeing that symbol which triggered memories of loss, suffering, and hate.  When we moved to a new neighborhood in Philadelphia in 1964 that had a heavy concentration of Jewish families, some vandals were carving swastikas in wet cement and spray painting it on some nearby houses.  All I can say is that those punks were lucky that my father never caught them; his fury was like a churning fire.

The recent ugliness, mayhem, and murder in Charlottesville, VA, would have offended my father deeply.  Seeing armed Neo-Nazis running around with swastika flags in the company of Klansmen and other assorted segments of white trash would have pushed him to the brink.   And living in the United States with a Nazi sympathizer in the White House?  Listening to a Commander in Chief who enables hate groups and counts White Supremacists as his closest advisers?  I shudder to think of the things he would be saying about all of this vile hatred and racial bigotry that have been unleashed by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

May the spirit that animated the Greatest Generation rise anew in our country so that we might reclaim the qualities that have always made America great–tolerance, benevolence, courage, and respect for others.

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