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.

Posted by: SJS | May 2, 2017

JFK at 100

On May 29th we will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy in Brookline, Massachusetts.

While he was a son of privilege and wealth, his WWII service as the Skipper of a PT Boat in the South Pacific transformed him.  He emerged from the war after experiencing  close combat, shipwreck, and the loss of  sailors under his command.  His valiant efforts to rescue his shipwrecked crew on an obscure Pacific island came close to taking his life.  It was his time in the Navy that ultimately equipped him for rigors of the presidency to which he was elected in November of 1960.

In leading the nation, and the free world, through the treacherous days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, I have no doubt that Kennedy’s stamina, courage, and brinkmanship all had their roots in the traumatic episode he endured when PT 109 was sliced in two by a Japanese warship in the summer of 1943.  Having survived that encounter, Kennedy could call on his sharp instincts and a vast reservoir of personal fortitude to guide our nation through some of the darkest days of our history.

For me, JFK will always be the PT Boat President.  Through the service of my father, I will always feel a special bond with this man who continues to inspire hope, boldness, and a flair for life that is unique in public life.  The exhilaration I felt as a nine year old boy when he ran for president in 1960 has never really subsided–and I’m sure that it never will.

Posted by: SJS | April 12, 2017

A diploma of distinction

My father never went to college.  It became one of his greatest regrets. Over the course of his life George “Red” Stahley gave voice to that regret often.  Many of his friends and many of my uncles who served in WWII took full advantage of the GI Bill and pursued degrees in business and other fields.  My father saw it as a missed opportunity for him and strongly encouraged his kids to get the best education possible.  We heard him loud and clear.  We pursued higher education in everything from healthcare to real estate management to philosophy.  My father took enormous pride and delight in the accomplishments of his children in the realm of higher education.

As I looked again through my father’s Navy file, I came across this Navy Training Course Certificate dated January 24, 1944.  Since January 24th is our son’s birthday, I noted that convergence immediately.  And, as I studied the details of the certificate, I realized it was for his training as a radioman.  The course of study he went through was rigorous, fast paced, and brutally demanding.  Sailors trained to be communications experts knew that their skills could be a matter of life and death, especially in the PT service where speed, mobility,  and coordination depended on a radioman’s knowledge and coolness under fire.

Red Stahley earned his certificate and became a Radioman 3c (Third Class) in late January of 1944.  Within six months, he would be putting his radio skills into practice in the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1945, in the steaming jungles of Borneo, he would be using his skills with Morse Code to collaborate with his closest buddy, Tom Saffles, to get their PT boats out of harms way on that fateful day when they came under fire from Japanese snipers on a patrol that was anything but routine.  The two radiomen, Stahley and Saffles, played outsized roles in getting PT 373 and PT 359 back to safety.  On a mission where one crewmate on PT 359 died under fire, the smooth work of the two radiomen ensured that the boats repositioned rapidly, took out the Japanese radio tower, and made it back to base with no further casualties.

Higher education on the GI bill after the war?  No, Red Stahley didn’t pursue it.  A Navy Training Course Certificate as a Radioman Third Class in 1944?  Yes.  Yes, indeed–and I could not be prouder of that accomplishment.  In my eyes, that humble, bureaucratic-looking Navy certificate earned by Red Stahley is more beautiful and meaningful than a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania or Harvard.  That simple, dignified document is a striking testimony to hard work, hours of study, and experience that saved lives and helped to win a war.  That is education at its very best.

Congratulations, Red–job well done.

Posted by: SJS | March 27, 2017

Armed, dangerous and ready to rock and roll

One of the more unusual photos I’ve come across from our good friends at PT Boats, Inc., shows the crew of a PT in Squadron (Ron) 15 posing with smiles, swagger, and a broad assortment of weapons.  The bold crew and their CO are brandishing pistols, knives, rifles, a machine gun, and even a machete.  The boat they are on is not identified.  When I saw that the photograph featured sailors from Ron 15, it immediately captured my attention since that was my father’s first assignment in the summer of 1944.  For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw his face in the back row but it was someone else.  As far as my research shows, Red Stahley was assigned to base duty as part of Ron 15 in various locations in North Africa and the islands in the Mediterranean.  Nonetheless, it is very easy to imagine my father climbing on board a boat with a weapon in hand, ready and willing to strike a pose for the camera.

The smiles on those young faces convey the confidence and daring that were so characteristic of the sailors of the Mosquito Fleet.  The weapons in their hands, however, reveal the unmistakable truth that war is serious business and that, in the flash of an eye, those weapons could mean the difference between life and death.  How easy it is to see my father reflected in the expressions and postures of those brave young men sitting atop the charthouse of their PT boat in Ron 15.

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