Posted by: SJS | September 26, 2022

New Mark VI Boats for Ukraine from US

It was thrilling to read that the armed forces of Ukraine will soon take delivery of twelve Mark VI patrol boats from the United States to support their operations against the Russian military. In an interview with the news source ArmyInform, Ukrainian Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa confirmed that the American patrol craft would soon be put to good use by the Ukrainians who have demonstrated a remarkable ability to integrate advanced weaponry into their battle plans and utilize those weapons to devastating effect and with lightning speed.

The Mark VI is a class of patrol boat in service with the United States Navy which is designed to patrol rivers and deploy weapons against enemy positions on shore. These craft are 85 feet in length and designed for a crew of ten with the capacity to carry up to eight additional personnel. The Mark VI is equipped with modernized weapons, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. The Mark VI was introduced by the US Navy in 2014.

When I first saw a photo of the Mark VI I was struck with its resemblance to the legendary PT boats of the Navy’s WWII fleet. The Navy’s description of these “modern PT boats” sounds very similar to the type of craft my father manned in 1945 when the PTs were being used for river patrols and close-in fighting with the forces of Imperial Japan in the final year of the war. When my father was on PT 373, he was a crewman on a heavily armed gun boat that was sent on missions up jungle rivers to take out an entrenched enemy.

Putting the Mark VI at the disposal of the Ukrainian fighters is yet more bad news for the hard-pressed Russians who are already suffering staggering losses at the hands of their highly-motivated and determined adversary. Just as they have been able to unleash the lethal potential of every weapon system they have received from their allies, I have no doubt the Ukrainians will put the Mark VI boats to use quickly and to devastating effect against an enemy that is growing weaker and more confused by the day.

Glory to Ukraine!

Posted by: SJS | September 11, 2022

Counteroffensive underway in Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of an armored vehicle on a road in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Over the past few weeks, the intrepid forces of Ukraine have launched a massive counteroffensive on the eastern front. They have penetrated deep into Russian-held territory sending the invading troops fleeing like frightened rats. Leaving behind heavy equipment, tons of ammunition, and even unfinished meals, the Russians have run away faster than Senator Josh Hawley fleeing the insurrectionists at the US Capitol on January 6th.

The Russians fear the Ukrainians more than they fear death or even the wrath of Putin.

The mighty Red Army they’re not.

As I follow the progress of the courageous, fearless defenders of Ukraine, I am continually reminded of the Navy’s PT crews who relished the opportunity to take the fight to their adversaries whenever those opportunities presented themselves.

Glory to Ukraine!

Posted by: SJS | August 22, 2022

Partisans at work — doing what they do best

Two Ukrainian partisans pose after a recent attack on armored vehicle

During World War II, the Nazi war machine faced determined, deadly resistance from French underground fighters on the Western front and Polish partisans in the East. As the war in the South Pacific grew more intense into the 1940s, the forces of Imperial Japan found themselves increasingly vulnerable to fierce guerrilla fighters in the jungles of the Philippines and Burma (now Myanmar).

Using stealth, speed, and laser-focused determination, these partisan units operated far behind enemy lines. These units destroyed infrastructure, disrupted communications, and provided targeting information for Allied bombing missions. Partisan fighters also assassinated officials they considered to be in collaboration with the enemy.

In addition to the havoc they wreaked, the partisans delivered a powerful message to their adversaries: you are never safe. The impact on enemy morale was persistent, grinding, and relentless. By all accounts, partisan fighters played no small role in turning turn the tide of WWII in favor of the Allies.

In a similar way, Ukrainian partisans are now hammering the Russians. In recent weeks, Ukrainian partisans played in a role in the huge explosion on a Russian air base in the Crimean Peninsula which Moscow annexed eight years ago. The attack destroyed eight Russian fighter jets. It was a devastating strike in territory that the Russians long considered to be safe and invulnerable to attack.

Learning about the work of the bold Ukrainian partisans reminded me of the stories I heard from my beloved uncle, Frank Morris, who served in the US Army under the command of the legendary General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of WWII. In the sweltering jungles of Burma, Frank’s unit was aligned with indigenous Kitchin fighters who were always eager to go toe-to-toe with the Japanese. The American troops and their Kachin compatriots played a major role in keeping supply lines open and communication networks in place as the Allies pushed west against the entrenched forces of Imperial Japan.

Uncle Frank maintained a lifelong love and devotion to the people of Burma because he never forgot the bravery of the Kachin partisans who he fought with, shoulder to shoulder in some of the toughest days of the war. Frank credited the Kachin fighters with getting the Americans out of multiple jams during their years of working together to drive the Japanese out of Burma.

Frank and Kachin fighters take a smoke break
Frank Morris shares Camel smokes with his Kachin comrades-in-arms

Posted by: SJS | August 18, 2022

PT 513 in the English Channel

PT 513 armed, ready and moving out

My thanks to Griff Carey for posting this powerful photo from the archives of Life Magazine. The photographer was David Scherman.

PT 513 was part of the legendary Squadron (RON) 35 which participated in the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944. The PTs of that squadron performed multiple tasks as part of the Normandy invasion–clearing mines, supporting landing craft, and helping to rescue Allied troops whose crafts went down in the channel. On D-Day and the days leading up to the invasion, the PTs were busy indeed.

High quality black and white photos like this one always do an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere and the energy that surrounded the work of the PT boats. Color photos are wonderful but when it comes to capturing the nuances of mood, movement, and tension, I’ve always found black and white photos to be the best.

Posted by: SJS | July 29, 2022

Doing the hard work of defending freedom

Ukrainian troops move against the Russians

Every day, whether the world is watching or not, Ukrainian men and women wake up, get out of bed, put on their helmets and body armor, and pick up their weapons. They then get busy defending their nation against the invading enemy whose goal is to wipe their country off the map. Every day, I remind myself that many of these noble Ukrainian fighters are my age (70) or older.

The Ukrainians have no time for complaining, making excuses, or denying the magnitude of danger they face. Whether the world is paying attention or not, the Ukrainian people accept the reality of their situation and deal with it. They’ve made it clear to anyone who cares that they won’t quit until the job is finished–and that job is to drive the murdering, criminal Russians out of their country.

A few months ago, these Ukrainian soldiers were teachers, pharmacists, construction workers, students, government administrators, truck drivers, retirees, and real estate agents. Many of them had never fired a weapon before Russia’s invasion in February of this year. When they “go to work” these days, their work involves assisting artillery units on the front lines, providing military logistical support, or pulling guard duty in a newly dug trench line. For the people of Ukraine, defending democracy is not an abstract concept or an academic debate. Defending freedom involves determination, endurance, facing fear and courage, courage, courage.

Like my father, Red Stahley, and all the other brave Americans of his remarkable generation, ordinary Ukrainians are demonstrating what it means to put one’s life on the line to defend democracy. America’s Greatest Generation taught us that freedom isn’t free and the brave Ukrainian people are demonstrating that truth again in real time.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the demands or life or feel tempted by self-pity, all I have to do is to remember what’s going on in Ukraine and it snaps me right out of any funk in which I find myself. Ordinary Ukrainian citizens my age–and many who are older–are facing down a vile, bloodthirsty enemy who commits large scale war crimes on a daily basis.

May the noble example of the Ukrainian people give us renewed energy and determination for doing the necessary work of preserving democracy and the precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

Glory to Ukraine!

Posted by: SJS | July 20, 2022

Torpedoes in search of targets

PT 30 heads out

An undated photograph of PT 30 shows a boat bristling with torpedoes heading out to sea. With no radar tower or deck guns in evidence, my guess is that this photo was taken in the early days of the war. By the time Red Stahley was assigned to the PTs in 1944, the PTs were increasingly being transformed into heavily armed gun boats that were more reliant on deck mounted machine guns than torpedoes. Nevertheless, the PTs always carried those big torpedoes in the event that they came across an enemy warship, barge, or transport vessel that was in need of sinking. From the beginning of the war to the end, the PTs were always ready, willing, and itching for a fight–it was just who they were.

Posted by: SJS | July 4, 2022

Happy 4th of July

Ukrainian servicewoman Nadie, 36, poses at the military camp in the village of Luhanske, eastern Ukraine September 24, 2014. (Photo by David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)

As we celebrate Independence Day this year in our nation, we do so with the full awareness that the brave women and men of Ukraine are this very day fighting for their freedom–and their survival–against an enemy who has every intention of wiping their country off the map. This brutal fight has been going on since 2014, when this stunning photograph was taken in Luhanske in the eastern section of Ukraine.

In the calm smile of Ukrainian soldier, Nadie, I see steely determination and an inexhaustible resolve to stay in the fight for as long as it takes. There is no surrender in the Ukrainian armed forces. Despite recent Russian advances on the eastern front, the combination of advanced weaponry from the West and the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people will eventually prevail. Militarily and morally, Russia has already lost this war.

Democracy, freedom, and the rights of self-determination are what Ukrainians are fighting and dying for every day. They are showing us just how costly it can be to preserve the things that we too often take for granted. Glory to Ukraine.

Have a happy and safe July 4th.

Posted by: SJS | June 30, 2022

Blue sea, blue sky full color PT photo

PT 506 hits full throttle

In this rare color photograph, PT 506 accelerates in the open ocean. With her bow riding high over the water and her stern plowing a wide, white wake trailing behind, PT 506 goes full bore on its way.

I have always cherished images like this because they help me envision what my father told me about his most enjoyable moments on the PTs–hitting full throttle in a wide sea with a clear sky above.

Posted by: SJS | June 19, 2022

USS Carondelet — A Father’s Day Salute

USS Carondelet 1945

The vessel which became the USS Carondelet began its life as an Italian tanker named Brennero, built in 1929. While the Brennero was anchored in New York Harbor it was seized by the US Coast Guard on June 11, 1940 under suspicion that that the ship was helping to fuel German U-Boats that were patrolling the East Coast of the United States. The Brennero was later turned over to the Merchant Navy in October of 1941 and it was renamed the SS Gold Heels. It sailed as a Panamanian licensed tanker to the Dutch East Indies and then on to Australia where the US Navy claimed her and the ship was refitted.

On April 4, 1944, the SS Gold Heels was commissioned the USS Carondelet (IX-136). The newly commissioned tanker was named after a legendary Civil War gunboat that served with distinction in the Union Navy. The first USS Carondelet fought in the Battle for Island #10 during the Tennessee River Campaign of 1862.

The WWII vessel named the USS Carondelet served as a station tanker and a repair ship. Station Tankers stayed in one place for extended periods of time performing repair and general maintenance work while also fueling front line war craft in the South Pacific. Like the PT Tenders, the presence of the Station Tankers did not go unnoticed by the naval forces of Imperial Japan. And like the crews on those PT Tenders, AJ and his fellow crewmen on the Carondelet had more than a few close calls with an increasingly desperate enemy that knew the important role of the maintenance and supply ships. Taking out the support craft in any way possible was a proven way of weakening the effectiveness of American fighting vessels.

The range of US Navy vessels that were serviced by the Carondelet is truly impressive. The summary log of the ship’s work in August of 1945 includes the following details: 56 LCTs (Landing Craft/tanks), 25 LCIs (Landing Craft/infantry), 8 SCs (Submarine Chasers), 2 AMs (Mine Sweepers), and 4 PCEs (Patrol Vessel Escorts). And that is only a portion of the work accomplished when young Navy Signalman, AJ Waite was aboard in August of 1945 while the Carondelet was at work in the Philippines.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this year, Dave and I are keenly aware of the role played by our fathers in the US Navy during the final, pivotal phase of WWII in the South Pacific where the fighting was intense and every ship that flew the American flag was never far from sudden and potentially lethal danger. AJ Waite and Red Stahley did their duty with steady fortitude, good humor, and the willingness to do whatever was needed, whenever it was needed. Our gratitude, respect, and love for these men only deepens as the years pass. The example they provided continues to shape and influence us every day of our lives.

I remember Dave once telling me that his father’s favorite movie was Mister Roberts–the classic film starring Henry Fonda and Jimmy Cagney. Fonda’s character, Mister Roberts, is a junior officer on a Navy cargo vessel who serves under a petty tyrant of a senior officer played by Cagney. Roberts is a natural leader and skilled administrator who does everything he can to shield his subordinates from the whims and vindictive decisions of their meanspirited captain. The war in the South Pacific is winding down and Mister Roberts desires nothing more than a transfer to a fighting ship that is in the thick of the action against the Japanese. In the meantime, he does his cargo work with dedication and generosity.

I will offer no further details and invite you to check out the film for yourselves. Consider it a Father’s Day gift to all the kind readers of this blog. I can promise you that Mister Rogers will not disappoint. Fonda and Cagney are at the top of their game and the story is a beautiful tribute to the members of the Greatest Generation who served in the US Navy, especially those who were stationed in the South Pacific.

Posted by: SJS | June 12, 2022

AJ Waite & the USS Carondelet (IX 136)

Navy Signalman AJ Waite of the USS Carondelet

In the spring of 1945, US Navy sailor, AJ Waite from Columbus, Ohio, was serving aboard the USS Carondelet when it arrived in the Philippines to support the massive Allied offensive that would lead to the defeat of Imperial Japan and bring an end to World War II. At the same time my father, George “Red” Stahley was serving in the Philippines with Navy PT Squadron (RON) 27, the father of my good friend, Dave Waite, was serving on the Navy tanker, Carondelet, a ship that provided fuel, supplies, and maintenance to a wide range of other ships from Destroyers to landing craft.

While Red and AJ never met during those fateful days of 1945, they were united in their powerful sense of duty, their youthful idealism, and their willingness to put their lives on the line in service to our country. When Dave and I met as seminary students in the 1970s, we learned that we were both proud sons of US Navy vets. It would be many years–actually decades–before we began to discover how much our fathers had in common as they journeyed half a world away from their homes. AJ and Red had not yet reached their twentieth birthdays when they stepped forward to put themselves in harm’s way to serve their country. Wherever the Navy chose to send them, they were ready to go and do their part.

The work that AJ Waite performed on the USS Carondelet was very similar to the work of the sailors who were assigned to the PT Tenders–the ships that fueled, repaired, and supplied the PT boats. Those PT sailors on the tenders who kept the PTs in fighting trim were the backbone of the Mosquito Fleet. Besides being carpenters, mechanics, cooks and electricians, the PT tender sailors were capable fighters who engaged enemy surface vessels and submarines and withstood kamikaze attacks from the air. Red Stahley had immense admiration, respect, and gratitude for the crews of the PT tenders.

While Dave was researching his father’s Navy service in 2020, he came across the After Action Reports (AARs) of the July 1945 engagement between two PT boats of Squadron (RON) 27 and a Japanese communications tower on a dense jungle river during the steamy early morning hours long before dawn. On one of those PT boats, PT 373, my father, Red Stahley, was manning his station at the boat’s radio, staying in steady communication with his best friend, Tom Saffles, the radioman aboard PT 359.

At the time Dave was doing his research, the AARs of that July engagement had been recently declassified; he found them and sent the information to me. This has been one of the most precious gifts I have ever received. I could never express the depth of my gratitude to my good friend, Dave.

The information Dave shared with me about the USS Carondelet–an amazing story–will be shared in my next post. The legacy of AJ Waite and George “Red” Stahley represent the very best of our nation. Dave and I are fortunate sons of remarkable men–something we are mindful of every day. We are privileged to share the proud legacy they have given us and our families.

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