Posted by: SJS | May 21, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

As we approach Memorial Day, we remember with gratitude and respect all those courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation.  As we come together to celebrate with family and friends over this holiday weekend, let us keep in mind those who died for all that we hold dear.

Simple, dignified white gravestones mark the final resting place of American service personnel in military cemeteries across the nation as well as on foreign soil.  They stand in still, silent witness to our highest ideals and most cherished values.

In the photo above, a veteran’s grave site is decorated with a floral arrangement.

Posted by: SJS | May 9, 2019

Torpedo testing

From the beginning of their service through the final days of the war, the PT boats carried large torpedoes that were launched from their decks.  Even as the deck-mounted weaponry on the PTs became more sophisticated and lethal toward the end of the war, the torpedo tubes were always loaded and ready for deployment.  Repeated problems with the torpedoes, despite some impressive kills, forced the PT crews to maximize every other tool at their disposal.

In this photo from the extensive archives of PT Boats, Inc., a torpedo is fired as the officers and crew of an unnamed PT look on.

Posted by: SJS | April 18, 2019

MacArthur hitches a ride on PT 490

 

In another classic photograph from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., General Douglas MacArthur rides aboard PT 490 in 1945 somewhere in the Philippine Islands.  The intertwined stories of MacArthur and the Navy’s PT boats in the Pacific theater of WWII form one of the most compelling narratives that emerged from the American experience of that vast conflict.

It was a PT boat on which MacArthur eluded capture by the rapidly advancing forces of Imperial Japan in 1942.  And it was on a series of PT boats in 1945 that MacArthur fulfilled his famous promise made as he made his daring escape– “I shall return.”  And one of those PT boats on MacArthur’s victorious return was the 373 on which my father, Red Stahley, served in the early spring of 1945.

The photo of PT 490 shows how these boats had evolved from the early years of the war.  While still carrying torpedoes, the PTs at war’s end were heavily armed, radar-equipped gun boats.  PT 490, bristling with powerful weaponry, greater speed, and the hi-tech innovation of radar, was a very different craft than the PT on which MacArthur escaped following the devastating defeats of the early days of WWII.

Posted by: SJS | April 13, 2019

Corruptio optimi pessima

While most of my seminary Latin has deserted me, I’ve been pleased to discover that many key Latin phrases have remained securely within my memory.  As I reached the final pages in Nathanial Philbrick’s superb work, Valiant Ambition, the phrase “corruptio optimi pessima” came roaring back to the surface of my mind–the corruption of the best is the worst– in reference to Benedict Arnold and his descent into treason in 1780.

Arnold’s attempt to hand over the  American fortifications at West Point on the Hudson River to the British, an attempt which was foiled when the Americans captured British Major John Andre who was carrying the plans in 1780, was a monstrous betrayal by a man who had become a legendary hero in the War for Independence.  Arnold’s leadership of American forces on land and water had elevated his status and made him a trusted aide of George Washington.  His decision to turn against his country, motivated by a combination of financial problems, wounded pride, and conflicts with other military officers resulted in his name becoming synonymous with the word “traitor.”  The story of his fall bears out the insight of that cogent Latin phrase–the corruption of the very best becomes the very worst of outcomes.

And yet I have come away from my illuminating exploration of Benedict Arnold’s Revolutionary War career with powerful new insights about the man who took command of America’s first “Mosquito Fleet” and helped to establish a tradition which carried down through the years and helped to shape the US Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” of WWII in which my father, Red Stahley, found himself in 1944.  Those qualities of Benedict Arnold leading his daring soldier sailors against the British in Valcour Bay in 1776 were qualities that endured all the way to the twentieth century.

Benedict Arnold was impulsive, hot-tempered, aggressive, and cunning.  He had a huge chip on his shoulder and he was always daring someone to knock it off.  He had a lifelong habit of acting without giving full thought to the consequences of his actions.  Those are qualities which can often result in an outcome which is utterly unfortunate.  And, in Arnold’s case, we see the tragic result writ large.

But when it comes to waging war on the water in small vessels against an adversary that, in every way, is superior in size, weaponry, and manpower, all of Benedict Arnold’s negative attributes were resounding positives.  The PTs needed crews that bristled with impulsive sailors who carried grudges as big as torpedoes and were at their best when the odds were against them.  Like Arnold, they wore those chips on their shoulders with pride–just waiting for any enemy crazy enough to try and knock it off.

In the painting–American and British ships in action during the battle of Valcour Island/Lake Champlain 1775

 

 

Posted by: SJS | April 6, 2019

The American Hannibal

In the early months of the American Revolution,  as George Washington was attempting to drive the British out of Boston, he saw an opportunity to catch his enemy off guard by launching a surprise attack on the British forces in Montreal and Quebec.  If the Americans could take those two cities before reinforcements arrived from England,  they might be successful in eliminating the British threat from the north.  Militarily speaking, it would be a major gamble but one worth taking.

The key to the success of the operation would be finding a way to surprise the British garrison at Quebec.  By following the Kennebec River into what is now northern Maine and into Canada, it would be possible to lead an army through the thick forest to Quebec, and catch the British unawares.  Washington chose Benedict Arnold to lead the attack. And Arnold was wildly eager for the challenge and set out to attack Quebec, a heavily fortified castle-like town that rose steeply above the St. Lawrence river.

Although Arnold lost 500 of his 1200 soldiers to starvation, exposure, and desertion after several weeks of pushing through the bog-like, icy backwoods of Maine,  his army made it to Quebec and climbed the riverside cliffs of the city and boldly demanded the surrender of the British.  The British refused.  The sheer audacity of this move won for Arnold the title of the “American Hannibal–” a reference to the young Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with his army (which famously included African elephants) to attack Rome during the Second Punic War in 218 BC.

Arnold needed a larger force if he was to have any chance of taking Quebec and he received it in the form of reinforcements from American General Richard Montgomery who had just taken Montreal.  On December 31st, 1775,  in a massive snowstorm, Arnold and Montgomery launched a two-pronged attack on Quebec which proved unsuccessful, mainly because Montgomery was killed and Arnold was seriously wounded in the left leg during the attack.  The Americans were forced to pull back.

When British reinforcements arrived in Canada in the early days of May 1776, what was left of the depleted American army was forced to evacuate south.  Arnold, who had recovered from his injury by this time,  took the lead in supervising the American retreat south to Lake Champlain in upstate New York.  It was there that Arnold successfully led American forces on the water in slowing the advance of the British ships toward the region of the upper Hudson River Valley in the autumn of 1776.  Under Arnold, the Americans stopped a British advance that could have easily ended the war.

Through the superb historical chronicle of author Nathaniel Philbrick in his remarkable book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, I am learning new things every day about Washington, Arnold, and the complex, multidimensional history of the war for American Independence.  As much as I love history there are things in this book about which–I am embarrassed to say–I knew nothing.  The fierce political turmoil in Pennsylvania and the conflicting emotions in my hometown of Philadelphia between loyalists and patriots are stories that have shocked and amazed me.  And, yes, Benedict Arnold was a part of that story, too.

The story of Benedict Arnold is so much deeper and much, much more nuanced than I ever realized.  While his treachery and betrayal are the things for which he justly became infamous and reviled, his military career in the early years of the American struggle was characterized by heroism, utter fearlessness, and a military brilliance that was indeed worthy of comparison with the great Hannibal of ancient history.

And more than that, I see in Arnold’s amazing naval skills so many of the qualities that animated the WWII sailors who eagerly jumped on small boats, headed out on nighttime missions, and went looking for trouble at the hands of larger adversaries– deadly trouble which they often found.  Those tiny American boats on Lake Champlain in 1776 fighting the British larger, better-armed ships had crews that highly resembled the American PT sailors who thought nothing of doing battle with German and Japanese ships, planes, and shore batteries in WWII. The boldness of both generations of US sailors was beyond belief.

What a history.  What a legacy!  What a classic American story.

 

A painting of the young Benedict Arnold

My research into the distinguished history of the US Navy’s PT boats of WWII continues to take me to fascinating and wildly unexpected places.  In the course of reading a remarkable book about the intertwined military careers of George Washington and Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War, I was stunned to read the chapter entitled “The Mosquito Fleet” about the engagement between British and American ships on Lake Champlain in October of 1776 during the war for American independence.

The book is entitled Valiant Ambition and the author is Nathaniel Philbrick.  My wife, Lisa, recommended it and I’m so glad she did.  Since I had read other fine books by Philbrick, I decided to give this one a try.  Valiant Ambition reads like a well written novel with compelling characters whose stunning feats and all-too-human failings make their stories captivating narratives about heroic leaders facing daunting, overwhelming challenges.

In learning the history of America’s first “Mosquito Fleet,” I’ve been struck by the similarities between the young men led by Benedict Arnold in 1776 and the American PT sailors of WWII who, like their counterparts in the Revolutionary War, were brash, daring, and remarkably fearless in going up against much larger and better armed adversaries on the water.  It is important to remember that in the Revolutionary War, the Americans were confronting the largest and most sophisticated Naval power in the world at the time-the British Royal Navy.

Here’s the thumbnail version of the Battle of Valcour Island which occurred on October 11, 1776 on Lake Champlain in upper New York State.  On their way from Canada to reinforce regiments in the lower portion of New York, the British Army needed to transport its troops southward by way of Lake Champlain.  The British plan was to reach the upper Hudson River Valley and continue moving south toward New York City to link up with the bulk of the mighty British army.  The American defense of Lake Champlain stalled the British advance and prevented what might easily have been their masterstroke in annihilating the Continental American Army, which was already reeling from a brutal pounding by the British.  The revolution might have been over if the British plan succeeded.

The American “navy” on Lake Champlain (which fully deserved the title of “Mosquito Fleet”) consisted of vessels that were little more than glorified row boats, called row gallies, gondolas (yes, you read that right), and a few small schooners.  Under the intrepid leadership of Benedict Arnold, this motley assortment of boats- many powered by oars and armed with small canons- managed to lure the larger British boats into a narrow straight where they traded fire with the enemy, took heavy casualties, and ultimately stopped the British advance down the lake.

There’s lots more to the story and I’ll be glad to post about what I learn.  What I’ve already found out is that the aggressive, in-your-face and damn-the-odds attitude that drove Red Stahley and his fellow PT sailors had a pedigree that is second to none.  Those same qualities were at work in 1776 and, in the autumn of 1776, were all that stood between the fragile American experiment in democracy and the mightiest military force on the planet.

Damn, that is some kind of legacy.

In the painting, boats square off at close quarters in Lake Champlain during the Battle of Valcour island.

Belton Copp receives medal

Red Stahley in dress blues

Over the course of our nation’s history, few institutions have played a more distinguished role than the United States Navy.  Following their service, navy veterans have gone on to distinguished careers in fields that range from business to academia to public service to philanthropy to humanitarian ventures that span the globe.  As the son of a Navy veteran who served in Europe and the South Pacific in World War II, I grew up with a respect and admiration for the Navy and its sailors that could fairly be described as reverence, if not awe.

The recent attacks on the memory of the late John McCain, a distinguished Navy Vet, by the deeply disturbed degenerate who happens to currently occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has offended me to my core.

And, yes, I do take it personally.

I find solace, however, in the fact that over the course of my lifetime three brave WWII Navy Veterans have occupied the highest office in our nation–an office that is now daily defiled by the heinous narcissist who will eventually be indicted for a list of crimes that will be encyclopedic in length.  While John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush were far from perfect, it’s safe to say that they were never shameless cheerleaders for murderous despots, stooges for a former Soviet KGB agent, or corrupt real estate moguls who routinely stiffed contractors, forcing many of them to go out of business.  Kennedy, Ford, and Bush served their country with honor, energy, and courage.

May their examples of military and public service summon all of us to the full, robust exercise of our civic responsibilities.  Every American citizen has a role to play in the restoration of decency, civility, and service to the vulnerable and needy in our midst.

It’s time to get busy.

JFK formal shot

Pictured:  Navy officer George H.W. Bush, Navy officer Belton Copp (commanding officer of PT 373), Enlisted sailor George “Red” Stahley, Navy Officer John McCain, and Navy Officer John F. Kennedy

 

 

 

 

 

As the proud son of a WWII Navy veteran who served this country with courage and integrity,  I cannot abide the reprehensible attacks on the memory of Navy Veteran John McCain by the craven, shameless imbecile who currently resides in the White House. There can be no denying the honorable and selfless service of McCain as a Navy pilot during the war in Vietnam.  In the same way, there can be no denying the pervasive character flaws of the man who is attacking his life of service.

Whether or not you agreed with the political choices of Senator McCain–and I heartily disagreed with many of them–the man’s dedication to public service is, and will remain, beyond question.  McCain’s endurance of years in brutal captivity and his refusal to accept an early release based on privilege have earned him the highest respect and esteem of his fellow Americans.

Red Stahley was a stalwart fan of John McCain and was deeply proud of his bond with McCain as a fellow Navy vet.  As a PT crewman who saw action in the island jungles of the South Pacific, Red knew better than most what it meant to put one’s life on the line in service to the country.  The forces of Imperial Japan were a formidable adversary and the sailors of the PT squadrons knew well what they were up against.  Like the Marines, the PT sailors were in combat with a fierce and unyielding enemy.  This was courage of the highest order.

To hurl vile and very public attacks against a distinguished American statesman and veteran seven months after his death is inexcusable and hateful enough but to prompt other deranged sociopaths to hurl anonymous attacks at John McCain’s widow and his family (two of whom are active military) is a disgrace unworthy of anyone who claims to love this nation.  What we are witnessing is behavior that is unworthy of any decent, self-respecting human being.

It is no accident that murderous white supremacists in this country and around the world (like New Zealand) make reference by name to the person resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  Make no mistake about it–this crime boss has blood on his hands.

And we as American citizens are tolerating behavior like this from the person who purports to lead our country?  I’m afraid that the continuation of this abominable situation says more about us as Americans than it does about the hateful miscreant who daily heaps greater shame and disgrace upon our nation.

God help us.

In the above photo, John McCain visits his former cell in the infamous North Vietnamese prison, the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | March 14, 2019

50 Tons of Fighting Fury

Among the many treasures I came across through my connection to PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN was an impressive brochure called: 50 Tons of Fighting Fury.  If the image of PTs as the “Knights of the Sea” was the romantic side of the Mosquito Fleet, this brochure–with its gorgeous color photography– serves as an introduction to the PTs that is decidedly unromantic.  It is brimming with dynamic photographs and hard-hitting information about the PTs and their crews.  On this page, the photograph looking off the stern of a PT is accompanied by a brief description of the mission of the PTs.  The three verbs that highlight this section of the brochure go right to the heart of the matter:  Ambush, Hunt, and Maraud.  How perfectly those three key words capture the role of the Mosquito Fleet.  This section of the brochure also includes a black and white photo of a PT Tender–an indispensable component of the PT family.

As with so many of the photos I’ve come across in my research, it is so easy for me to picture my father sitting at the rear of his boat as it bounces over the water, watching the wake, and keeping an eye peeled for danger–in the air, on the water’s surface, or from shore batteries drawing a bead on the boat.

I am always happy to pay tribute to PT Boats, Inc. in Germantown, Tennessee and the superb work the organization does to honor the legacy of the PT Boats, Bases and Tenders.  Keep up the great work, Alyce & Allison!  Thanks for all you do and do so well.

Posted by: SJS | March 4, 2019

Willoughby gunners in the thick of the action

In the battle of Leyte Gulf in October of 1944, the PT Tender AGP 9, aka The USS Willoughby, found herself in the middle of the largest naval battle of WWII, with over 200,000 naval personnel involved.  The Willoughby was untouched during the battle and she played a vital lifesaving role by taking on board many survivors from other US ships that had been hit during the fighting.

This photograph from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. was taken on the Willoughby and shows another ship burning from a direct hit by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft.  The crew of the tender was busy fending off enemy attacks and hauling fellow sailors out of the water–another important day in the story of the Mosquito Fleet and its courageous sailors in the South Pacific.

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