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.

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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.

Posted by: SJS | August 14, 2017

Banking hard to port in a wide sea

In this excellent photo from PT Boats, Inc., PT 622 moves sharply to the port side as it churns up a beautiful wake.

My father’s descriptions of his PT days always took on an added measure of energy and excitement when he spoke of his boat going full throttle in the open waters of the South Pacific.  The sense of freedom and exhilaration he felt in those days always came through so powerfully as he spoke.

In this aerial view, the full power and elegant lines of a PT boat are on vivid display.  And what a sight it must have been to behold from the air!

Posted by: SJS | July 26, 2017

At ease on PT 373

A few sailors strike a relaxed pose on PT 373 somewhere in the South Pacific.  This photo was shared with me by Mike Nixon whose father, Jim, served on the 373–quite possibly during the same period when my father was assigned to this boat.  While the photo did not include the names of the sailors or the date that the photo was snapped, the face of the standing crewman seemed familiar to me from another photo that included my father and other sailors of the 373.   Coming across photos like this one always arouse my curiosity and I find myself wondering if my father was on the boat that day, if some of these guys were his buddies, and if these sailors were all lucky enough to survive the war.  Questions and more questions and lots of speculation.  My thanks to Mike for sharing this photo with me and the other fascinating photos and documents he shared from his father’s collection.

Posted by: SJS | July 21, 2017

PT 359 at rest

What a thrill it was for me to come across this photo of PT 359–the boat in Squadron (Ron) 27 on which my father’s best buddy, Tom Saffles, served as the radioman.  PT 359 is the boat on the left in this photo from PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN.  Red’s boat was PT 373 and the two boats were often assigned to the same mission.  Those assignments often put them in harm’s way and once resulted in the death of a sailor on PT 359 when they were on a river mission to take out a Japanese communication tower.  It was a life changing moment for Tom who handed off his post as the bow gunner to his mate who took a sniper’s bullet moments after Tom had returned to his radioman post as assigned by the skipper.  In his shock and grief, Tom made immediate contact with Red on PT 373.  It was Red who helped his buddy deal with the overwhelming range of emotions that landed on him as their fellow sailor died from his wounds.

My guess is that there were many other assignments that were brimming with danger, suspense, and close calls.  There were so many stories that were never shared and so many memories locked deep inside the minds of the PT sailors that it would be impossible to grasp the full extent of how those young lives were changed forever because of those experiences–many of which were terrifying and traumatic.

Seeing PT 359 and remembering the story of that perilous mission reminded me yet again of all those young PT sailors endured in the final weeks and months of WWII.  My sense of wonder and gratitude and respect keep growing larger all the time.

And so the journey continues.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 29, 2017

USN Beneficiary Slip – Making a will

In going through the paperwork in my father’s Navy file, I came across his Beneficiary Slip which would direct “the payment of 6 months’ pay to the widow, children, or dependent relative of any of the personnel on the active list of the Regular Navy…”  The form is dated June 25, 1943 when my father was about six months shy of his 19th birthday and still a brand new graduate of Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia.  The middle portion of the form did not apply to him so it is stamped “Not Married.”  The bottom of the form contains the name of his father, my grandfather, George F. Stahley who my father designated as his beneficiary.  I can only begin to imagine what must have gone through my father’s mind when he first held this form in his hands.

Despite it’s bureaucratic drabness and the artless hand stamps of his service number, hometown, and date,  this simple piece of official Navy paperwork carries the solemn and sober information about a young man who has joined the Armed Forces of his nation and will likely be in harm’s way and may never return.  George J (Red) Stahley had made his will on that late June day in 1943 and in another year, he would find himself in North Africa supporting the invasion of Southern France in the summer of D-Day.  There he would quickly realize that the prospect of not returning home was not a theoretical possibility but something he would live with every day.

Although it seems like just another piece of official paperwork in a personnel file with lots of other similar forms, this Beneficiary Slip has its own story to tell–and quite a serious story it is.   In simple, unadorned lines that must be completed, the US Government requires to know how to “direct the payment of 6 months’ pay” to whoever may be left behind should this sailor not return from the war.

As we approach the celebration of our nation’s independence on July 4th, I’ve found that this simple form makes for excellent reading about the real cost of freedom and those brave men and women who have been willing to lay everything on the line and do their duty on behalf of us all.  As we celebrate the day of our nation’s founding, let us offer a word of gratitude for all those who have served us with such dignity and courage in the Armed Forces of our nation.

Have a happy and safe July 4th!

Posted by: SJS | June 22, 2017

Squadron (Ron) 5 PT Officers

In this undated photograph from PT Boats, Inc., a group of PT Boat officers from Squadron (Ron) 5 strike a pose that is somewhere between casual and combative.  Commanding a PT boat seemed to require having an edge and a bit of an attitude.  These six officers project that unusual combination of traits–each in their own way.  The message they seem to be conveying to the photographer is:  hurry up and snap your damn picture and get out of here.  Wearing shorts does not diminish the impression that these guys are all business.

Like most of the enlisted PT sailors, my father had a healthy mixture of respect and resentment for the skippers he served under, especially in the South Pacific.  The strongest feeling of camaraderie Red felt was for the other enlisted crewmen with whom he served.  Those bonds endured for the rest of his life.  My guess is that if my father ever found himself near a gathering of officers, he would snap a quick salute–and then be on his way.

Posted by: SJS | May 24, 2017

In Memoriam

This 1944 photograph shows the memorial to the PT sailors who were killed in action, missing, or died from other causes in World War II.  The memorial wall stood in Bulkeley Park at the Melville, Rhode Island PT Boat Training Center.  More names would be added to the wall over the remaining months of the war.  The photo was supplied by PT Boats, Inc., of Germantown, TN.

As we prepare for the upcoming observance of Memorial Day on Monday, May 29th, this simple, dignified memorial bears witness to those who paid the final full measure to protect and defend all that we hold dear as American citizens.  In the midst of the traditional Memorial Day celebrations on Monday, take a moment for silent gratitude on behalf of all who gave their lives in service to us all.

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