Posted by: SJS | July 17, 2018

Thank you, Senator McCain.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking, servile, and treasonous  behavior earlier today in his Helsinki meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, I defer to the words of John McCain–one of the most distinguished members of the United States Senate, a proud Navy veteran, and a heroic prisoner of war who refused an early release from a North Vietnamese prison to show solidarity with the other American POWs who were held captive with him.  In a statement following the Helsinki summit, Senator McCain called the news conference between Trump and Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”  Senator McCain also stated that “Trump abased himself before a tyrant.”

For those of us whose parents and relatives were part of the generation that served with such distinction in WWII, Trump’s behavior on the world stage today was a source of profound embarrassment and utter revulsion.  To see the president of the United States acting as mindless pack animal being led around by a brutal, thuggish dictator whose primary political ambition is to recreate the failed Soviet empire was a vile insult and a betrayal of the core values we hold and cherish as Americans.

For Trump to side with Putin,  the former KGB agent who authorized the 2016 attack on our electoral process, against the reports of our American intelligence agencies is an act that is blatantly criminal and must not be tolerated.  As I write this, Putin’s operatives are at work to hack the next round of American elections in November of this year  and our “Commander-in-Chief” does nothing to prevent it.  If these are not high crimes and misdemeanors, I would certainly like to know how else to describe them.

There will be a reckoning.  There will be a reckoning and it cannot come soon enough.

Posted by: SJS | July 12, 2018

The roots of NATO–Red Stahley was there.

It was around this time of year in 1944 that newly-minted Radioman 3rd Class Red Stahley was making his way across North Africa on a troop train with other PT sailors of the US Navy to support the operation that would begin in August of that year–the invasion of Southern France.

Seventy four years ago, from PT bases in North Africa and islands in the Mediterranean, the American PTs would collaborate with British Commandos, soldiers of the Free French Army, and Canadian Troopers to wrest control of Southern France from the Nazis.  While the Allied forces were pushing inland following the Normandy Invasion in early June, the fighting in south of France would play a major role in the overall strategy of retaking Europe–one battle at a time.The fighting was intense and often at close quarters.

From the blood and sacrifice and valor of the joint Allied Forces, exhibited so powerfully in the first campaign of which Red Stahley was a part, there would gradually emerge a new coalition.  It would be a coalition of nations that came to embrace and help rebuild postwar Germany.  This coalition would then form a bulwark against the emerging threat represented by the USSR–the Communist Block with Russia as its driving force.  The Soviets had already dropped an Iron Curtain across Europe and threatened the fragile peace that had been purchased at such a cost of life and treasure.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization –NATO–under the steadfast leadership of the United States would serve the world as the guarantor of of peace, stability, and prosperity across the Atlantic with its influence affecting the balance of power through the Cold War and beyond.  For 70 years now, NATO has fulfilled its mission and accomplished untold good for the peace and stability of the entire world.

We are now subjected to the vile, arrogant behavior of a US president who seems to be totally ignorant of twentieth century history and the precious bonds that emerged from WWII and the Cold War between America and her allies.  The disdain and contempt with which Trump treats our strongest allies is a shocking embarrassment and an utter disgrace.  Worse still, it is a foul insult to the memory of my father and the other men & women who put their lives on the line to overthrow fascism and the Nazi menace in WWII.

Trump’s behavior at the recent NATO summit was reprehensible, crude, and downright imbecilic.  His words and actions dishonor the deepest values of our American heritage.  His embrace of thugs, dictators, and international criminals brings disgrace and scorn upon our nation.  When he travels to Helsinki on Monday we must see his meeting with Putin for what it really is–the brutal former KGB agent who runs Russia giving instructions to the useful idiot he helped to become the president of the United States.  Trump is Putin’s chief stooge and asset. His behavior at the NATO summit clearly shows that Trump does everything his Moscow Master tells him to do.  There is no mystery about who is running the show.  The script Trump follows–at home and abroad–comes right from Putin.

We will survive this dark period in our history and there will be a reckoning.  There will be a reckoning.  Too many brave men and women have paid too high a price for us not to surmount this challenge we now face.

How glad I am that my father never lived to see days like these.

 

Posted by: SJS | July 3, 2018

Happy July 4th!

As we celebrate the birthday of our nation, it’s always a good time to remember the valiant service of those who wore the uniform of the United States Armed Forces and put their lives on the line to protect all that we hold dear as Americans.  The young men and women who stepped forward to confront the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII will always be celebrated for their remarkable courage and spirit of sacrifice.  As the proud son of a sailor who fought bravely against both the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese forces in 1944 and 1945, July 4th is a day that fills me with gratitude, reverence, and awe for all that Red Stahley did to preserve this nation for his children and all Americans.

This iconic photo of two PTs captures the elegance and grace of these remarkable boats.  My father relished those moments when PT 373 went full throttle and lifted her bow proudly as she cut through the dangerous waters of the South Pacific.  From the way he would describe those days, it was clear that Red knew he was part of a team that was fully a match for any adversary they might engage with whether on the water, in the air, under the water or on shore.  It was the confidence of the PT crews and it was a force to be reckoned with in every encounter.

Have a happy and safe holiday and always remember those who made it possible for us to continue our celebration of this amazing day.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 21, 2018

Ike on board – June 24, 1944

On D-day plus 18 (June 24th), PT 518 of Squadron (Ron) 35 was chosen to bring Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the coast of France to survey the progress of the invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy.  Also on board that day were ADM Allen Kirk of Naval Operations Normandy Invasion and ADM Ramsey, Chief of British Naval Forces.

The sprawling story of the Allied Invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944 cannot be told without reference to the vital role played by the PT crews.

Within two months of the date of this photo, PT squadrons would be heavily involved in the liberation of Southern France in collaboration with allied troops from multiple nations.  Red Stahley, along with other newly trained PT sailors, would land in Northern Africa and make their way east on troop trains and take up their positions on the front lines of the war against Nazi Germany.

As part of the vast arsenal at his command, the PT boats would continue to play a crucial role for General Eisenhower through the remainder of 1944 as the campaign against Hitler’s war machine drove relentlessly toward Berlin.

This photo is from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, TN.

 

Posted by: SJS | June 16, 2018

Happy Father’s Day

Baby Jr with Pop

My grandfather, George F. Stahley, holds his son, my father, George J. Stahley in May of 1925.  At the time of the photo, my father was six months of age and my grandfather was a few months shy of his twentieth birthday.  The picture was taken somewhere in Philadelphia.

The gentle strength and quiet dignity of my grandfather, “Pop” Stahley, come through beautifully in this photograph.  His impact on my life and early development would be impossible to overestimate.  We shared the same birthday–August 14th–and the bond between us was a sustaining force for me on many levels.  His death in 1969, a week before our mutual birthday, was the most devastating loss I had ever experienced to that point in my life.  When I turned 18 a week later, the world felt like a colder and much emptier place.

Coming across this photo in the family archives reminded me of all I have to be grateful for on this Father’s Day.  As vastly different as were my grandfather and my father, the two of them gave me their best and equipped me superbly for the life that lay before me when I arrived on the scene in 1951.

A happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers out there!

 

 

Posted by: SJS | June 1, 2018

Royalty aboard the PTs – prepping for D-Day

A few days before D-Day, the British King, George VI, was part of an inspection party that viewed the buildup for the invasion in the harbors of Portland, Plymouth, and Weymouth in England.  In this photo from the archives of PT Boats, Inc., the king is pictured third from the left with British Admirals Strubel, Kirk and  Ramsey standing closest to him.  In the foreground is USN Ensign Sharkey of PT 504 which was part of Squadron (Ron) 34.

As we approach the 74th anniversary of D-Day, it is important to remember the vital roles played by the PTs — both in advance of the invasion and in the middle of the action on June 6, 1944.  Prior to the invasion, the PT boats did mine sweeping work to clear the way for the landing craft.  In the midst of the invasion, PTs were busy rescuing troops that were adrift after their landing craft had been sunk by the German shore batteries.  With their speed and agility, the PTs were able to move rapidly to where they were needed and get the job done almost always before enemy gunners could draw a bead on them.

King George VI was the English Monarch who was the subject of the recent movie The King’s Speech.  After his brother unexpectedly abdicated the throne, George VI was thrust onto the world stage at a pivotal moment in world history.  His courage in overcoming his speech impediment and rallying his besieged nation as the Nazi war machine shifted into high gear were an inspiration to his country and the world.  In this photo, the king’s dignity, resolute nature, and seriousness of purpose shine through as the Allies moved ever closer to that historic day in World War II.

If you haven’t had the chance to see The King’s Speech, I highly recommend it.  It’s worth seeing–at least two or three times!

Posted by: SJS | May 25, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Burial at sea.

A photo that still haunts me every time I see it.

In its grim simplicity and searing honesty, the picture embodies the essence of the holiday we will soon celebrate–Memorial Day.  Officers and enlisted sailors of the USS Intrepid who lost their lives during the battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines are committed to the sea.  The faces and gestures of the sailors convey a solemn dignity and deep reverence for the remains of their shipmates who have made the supreme sacrifice.  If a picture is worth a thousand words then this one is worth at least ten million.

The photograph is the work of Lt. Barrett Gallagher who worked as part of the superb Navy photojournalism team led by Lt. Commander Edward Steichen.  Their body of work captured the spirit of the Navy and Marines who gave their all to win the war against the forces of Imperial Japan in WWII.

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Memorial Day.  May we never forget the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | May 19, 2018

Lookout on the bow

In this undated photo from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., an unidentified crewman sits on the bow of a fast moving PT checking out the way forward and giving guidance to his skipper at the wheel.  Few images better capture the intrepid spirit of the Mosquito Fleet than this one.  The plain fact of PT service was that everybody on board did whatever needed to be done–meeting the immediate need at hand.  Moments before this photo was snapped, this sailor could have been manning the deck gun, working the boat’s radio,  preparing a meal, or tending to the Packard engines that powered the boat.

Because the PTs operated so frequently in shallow waters, it is not surprising that lookouts were occasionally needed to keep a close eye on the treacherous path ahead.  Those waters could be bristling with mines, rocks, or sand bars lurking just under the surface.  In the last months of the war in the Pacific during the spring and summer of 1945 the PTs were operating more frequently as heavily armed gunboats than as torpedo-laden ship hunters.

Red Stahley’s final months in the war were by far the most harrowing and dangerous of his service in the USN.  Being sent on patrols up jungle rivers and fighting the ever more desperate forces of the Imperial Japanese Army, the PT sailors relied ever more heavily on the attributes that had always served them so well–speed, stealth, and teamwork.  As the war drew to a close in the Pacific, they knew that the dangers they faced would never end until Imperial Japan finally surrendered.

Seeing photos like this one, it is so easy to picture my father sitting astride the bow and pointing the way forward.  Like all the other PT sailors, Red was always ready to do whatever needed to be done–all in a day’s work for the sailors of the Navy’s legendary Mosquito Fleet.

 

 

Mary Young Stahley 1926Mary Young Stahley, Red’s mother and my grandmother (“Nana”) was about as Irish as they came in the early part of the 20th century in Philadelphia.  Her parents were both immigrants from Ireland and Mary was the eldest of six children.  Her father was a fireman and her mother was a full time homemaker with her hands full.

In 1918, when Mary was just 13, her mother died when she fell victim to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which moved rapidly through the population and took so many lives in short order.  Mary was forced to leave school in the eighth grade and assume the role of surrogate mother to her five younger siblings.  She never made it to high school but raised her siblings, all of whom lived successful and very good lives.

From that young age, Mary’s life was governed by a strong streak of Irish stoicism with an overpowering awareness of the fragility and briefness of human life.  The optimism and unbounded ambition that characterized the Irish experience of the O’Neill family was nowhere present in the earliest years of George “Red” Stahley.  Life was about a fierce protectiveness and the need to simply survive.

I well remember Nana telling me countless times when I was a child that every day of my father’s Navy service overseas in WWII was pure torture.  Her only child was far away on the front lines in Europe and the South Pacific.  Nana lived in constant dread of receiving that telegram from the War Department or the arrival of the black car at the front door bringing the military officer and the parish priest to deliver the worst news possible.

Something tells me that Red’s survival on the PTs owes more to his mother’s influence than I previously knew.  In his eyes, no German fighter pilot or sailor in the Imperial Japanese Navy was more formidable than Mary Young Stahley.  So surviving and making it home was simply a task that had to be accomplished.

Despite her bright smile and expansive personality, Nana Stahley always carried within her a grim Irish fatalism that knew only too well that human life can be brutal, unforgiving, and cruel.  As I reflect back on her life and all the lives she touched, I can see clearly how well that Irish stoicism served her, my grandfather (Pop). my father and all of us who had the good fortune to be related to her.  Everything for Mary Young Stahley was about survival and taking care of those closest to you.  And her success in that realm was a tribute to her tenacious perseverance, hard work and grit.

We lost her in 1994 at the age of 89.  She lived a remarkable life and most certainly took excellent care of all those she loved.  Her indominatabile influence remains strong and indelible.

The undated photo shows Mary Young Stahley sometime during the 1920s in Philadelphia.  In her smile, I see reflections of my father, several great aunts, cousins and each of my four sisters.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | April 19, 2018

The O’Neill Bros

This striking photo of my mother, Rita Marie’s, five brothers takes me all the way back to my earliest impressions of them as a young child.  I was in awe of them and forged relationships with them that have given me memories that will last a lifetime.

Growing up, it was through the lens of the O’Neill family that I came to have some understanding of another Irish Catholic family–the Kennedys–which would come to have such a profound impact on the history of our country and the world.  Through the family of my mother, I was given insights into the Kennedys, especially John F. Kennedy, whose WWII experiences on the PT boats of the South Pacific have brought me to a deeper understanding of my father, George “Red” Stahley who did similar service as a young man.  Somehow, it all fits together in ways that go deeper than I could ever say.

Pictured left to right are Rob, Ed, Tim, Al, and Bud.  I believe the photograph is from Tim’s wedding day.  Each of these uncles, of whom I was extremely proud, played major roles in my earliest years.  Although I did not remain as close to some of them as others as the years passed (for reasons I do not fully comprehend), their imprint on my childhood was deep and enduring.

Ed, the Army veteran who lost half a leg as part of the Normandy invasion in 1944, was my godfather.  Among my most cherished early memories are of Uncle Ed getting down on the living room floor to play with his nieces and nephews at family gatherings.  Since Ed was the last of the brothers to marry and start a family, he was free to shower boatloads of attention on the emerging O’Neill generation–and we were only too happy to soak up as much of that gentle Eddie energy as we could get.  Known affectionately by his nickname “Oats” to the grown ups, he was always Uncle Eddie to us kids.  His broad smile and easy laughter are deeply and gratefully at home in my memory.

Tim, third in line after Peggy and Bud was the parent of my cousins with whom I spent many happy summer days–Timmy, Kevin, and Brian.  Somehow the four of us could play baseball games consisting of four players that went on for many innings and involved several close plays at first  base.  Many of those plays were hotly disputed if memory serves.  I remember Uncle Tim for his sharp wit and warm welcome every time we had the opportunity to visit.

Because of Al, I learned the meaning of words like “urbane” and “sophisticated” much sooner than most kids in the second grade.  And even as a child, I could tell that Uncle Al  had a sense of humor that was somehow more subtle but more expansive that other adults.  I remember at one family gathering, a First Communion party after several of us had just taken that momentous step that loomed large for all Catholic children, I found myself between Uncle Al and Aunt Peggy (Sister Margarella, OSF) who were having an intense discussion about the new pope–the jovial and rotund Angelo Roncalli who had become Pope John XXIII–the pope who would convene Vatican II and change the course of the Catholic Church.  Along with my cousin Frankie Morris, I was wearing my sparkling white first communion suit on that long ago day.

As Aunt Peggy went on at great length about the virtues of the new pope,  I watched Al’s smile grow wider and saw a mischievous look in his eye. “Oh, Peg, he’ll do alright but you know he’s not perfect,” Al said.  For the briefest of moments,  he held his big sister in a stunned silence.  “After all, he’s not Irish–right Stephen?” Al said, looking at me with a wink.  I’m quite sure it was the first “grown up” joke I ever got.  I started to laugh so hard I almost spilled my glass of orange soda all over my white suit–almost.  I’ll always be grateful to my Uncle Al for letting me in on the joke.  That gift of Irish humor–irreverent, earthy, and loaded with paradox–began to take root in me that day.

Bud, the oldest of the boys, was the father of my cousins Terry and Patrice who grew up with my sister Maryellen and I in the same Philly neighborhood with the Morris family–cousins Michael, Frankie, and Robbie before all the other siblings and cousins showed up in our families–Marguerite, Joan, Teresa Stahley, Jay, Helene, Marita O’Neill, Eddie, Danny, Bernadette, and Tommy Morris.  It felt like a branch of the extended O’Neill clan owned that portion of Philadelphia real estate between Front and B Streets.

I will always remember Bud’s keen interest in poetry, philosophy, and theology.  He loved nothing more than an intense discussion (or better, debate) about a line from a W.B. Yeats poem or a concept in the work of St. Augustine.  Uncle Bud was more tuned in to the controversies generated by the doctrine of Original Sin than most of my seminary theology professors.  Bud was a businessman all his life but I don’t think that profession engaged him nearly as much as the challenges he found through his wide ranging intellectual interests.  Like his brothers, Bud’s sharp wit and Irish penchant for stories were always captivating and offbeat at the same time–an engaging combination for sure.

Rob, whose contagious laughter and bottomless generosity formed my first impressions of him as a child and the memories of my final visit with him a few days before his death, was the O’Neill sibling who did more than any other to stay in touch, offer assistance, and openly express his loving affection for everyone in the large, complicated, and deeply conflicted O’Neill family.  And there were no exceptions.

Uncle Rob’s deepest joy and greatest happiness came when he was in the company of family–and the more the merrier.  And nothing could change that.  One of the core teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that love is stronger than death.  And as his nephew, I had the great good fortune of learning this from my Uncle Rob long before the Sisters of Saint Joseph taught me the lessons of the Baltimore Catechism or my theology professors at Catholic University guided me through the nuances of the New Testament and the soaring beauty of the prophets and psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures.  His tender care for his three sisters Peggy, Rita, and Helen in their declining years was a profound lesson in familial love, unfailing loyalty, and kindness that knew no bounds.

Like his twin, Al, Rob served in the immediate post war armed forces–Al in the Army and Rob in the Navy.  They both contributed to helping to secure the Allied victory that had been purchased at such a high price by veterans like their older brother Ed.  As in the service of his country, Rob’s service to his family was deep, generous, and cheerful.  While each of the eight O’Neill siblings were gifted with an Irish sense of humor, none could match the robust and deeply joyful humor that Rob took everywhere he went.   His smile in the photo above–broad, genuine, and warm–only grew larger as the years passed.  Every life that Rob touched got better and the example he left us only grows more beautiful over time.

My deepest thanks to my cousin and dear friend, Paul O’Neill (Rob’s son) who shared this remarkable photo with me.  How privileged I am to share it with you.

 

Older Posts »

Categories