Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2020

November 22, 1963

It was a day that changed the course of history. And it was certainly a day that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, it felt like history was no longer something confined to textbooks or homework assignments. History was something I was living through in all of its brutal immediacy and the frightening images that were presented to us on television.

President and Ms. Kennedy in the Dallas Motorcade on November 22, 1963

I was twelve years old on that November day. By the time I went to bed that evening, felt like an old man–exhausted, confused, and deeply grief-stricken. It felt like the entire world had been turned upside down. The shock of losing a president in such a gruesome way was overwhelming and more disorienting than anything I had ever experienced in my young life.

NY Times headline November 23, 1963

Kennedy’s PT experience in WWII, an experience he shared with my father, gave him a very privileged position in my world. He was more than a president or a politician–he was a navy man who had risked his life multiple times in service to his country. For JFK’s life to end in an act of violence–violence from which he could not defend himself–was a cruel, merciless lesson in irony for a twelve year old boy who would quickly begin to learn other lessons that the world would teach about violence, injustice, and the fragility of human life.

JFK in his navy dress whites & as a young congressman

Now that fifty-seven years have passed since that horrific day in 1963, the sting and shock of JFK’s assassination have been tempered by other lessons from the life and legacy of the nation’s 35th president. Through his Navy service, Kennedy learned about sacrifice, resilience, and putting the needs of others above your own needs. Through his tenure as president, he discovered the importance of learning from your mistakes and that political courage can really take a toll on your popularity. Up to the last day of his life, JFK was learning and putting the lessons he learned into practice.

While he was far from a perfect human being, JFK’s life reminded all Americans that public service is a noble calling and that all who have served in our nation’s military are worthy of respect, admiration, and deep gratitude. The example of JFK is like a powerful light that will guide us through this turbulent and toxic era of our history.

And the legacy of JFK reminds us that Americans deserve a president who reflects our highest ideals–service, justice, fairness, empathy, and competence in governing.

How refreshing it will be to welcome those qualities back into the White House when the current occupant is shown the door on January 20, 2021.

A plaque honoring American women who served
The crew of a PT Tender pose with their mascot
A Marine gun captain points out a Kamikaze plane aiming for a US Destroyer

On Veterans Day, we salute all those who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States. As the son of a WWII Navy veteran and the brother of an Army veteran who served in the 1970s, I am enormously proud of the contribution our family has made to the American military.

My father, George “Red” Stahley, and my sister, Maryellen Stahley Brown, served our nation with distinction–my father as a PT boat radioman and my sister as member of the Army’s Nursing Corps. November 11th is a very special day in our family.

To all those who have stepped forward and served in our nation’s armed forces we owe a great debt of gratitude. They represent the very best of who we are as Americans.

Anyone who would denigrate, ridicule, or belittle our veterans–especially those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice–is not worthy of being considered an American citizen. There is a word for a person of that ilk–and that word is loser.

On this Veteran’s Day 2020, may God bless all those who have served in the American Armed Forces and all who currently serve our nation on active duty across the globe and here at home.

Red in dress blues - formal shot
Red Stahley, USN, 1944

My father’s first assignment in WWII was with PT Squadron (RON) 15 in the Mediterranean in 1944. On bases in North Africa and small islands off the coast of Italy, his job was to serve as a radio operator helping to maintain the communication network that linked the PT boats, PT tenders, and PT bases.

It was not uncommon for the bases to be strafed by Nazi fighter planes. Dodging bullets was simply a fact of life for the sailors on PT bases.

Red’s first assignment in the South Pacific was with Squadron (RON) 27 in 1945 where he was assigned as a radioman to PT 373. On a particularly horrendous jungle river patrol in Borneo, he remained steadfast at his radio while his boat was being raked by heavy machine gun fire as the 373 and the 359 completed their mission of taking out a Japanese communications tower. He and his fellow radioman on PT 359, Tom Saffles, maintained close contact so their skippers could successfully carry out the attack. Red and Tom formed the link holding the mission together.

One PT sailor on the 359 was killed in the attack and a PT crewman on the 373 was gravely wounded. The mission was dangerous, harrowing, and very, very costly.

If my father was courageous enough to put his life on the line in service to our country in WWII, then I can damn well sure devote my time and energy to preserving our democracy in times of crisis and danger–like the times we are living in now. So I will work without ceasing to encourage my fellow citizens to vote for candidates who believe in justice for all, racial equality, truth, decent healthcare for every American, and the importance of science in education and government policy.

And I’m not stopping after this election ends.

I know now–as I have never known before–that freedom isn’t free and that the work of democracy goes on each and every day. So I intend to stay with the work of building democracy as long as I can draw breath. It is one small way to honor the legacy of my father and all those who have worn the uniform of the American Armed forces since our nation began.

And anyone who would ever refer to the members of the American military as “losers” or “suckers” does not deserve to live in this nation, much less hold elective office. One who would dare make remarks like these is the scum of the earth.

Vote. Vote. Vote. VOTE. Please–for God’s sake–VOTE.

It is the least you can do for this nation we are privileged to call our home.

Red at Biserta, North Africa
Red at Bizerta PT Base 1944

Posted by: SJS | October 27, 2020

I liked Ike–a real winner all the way.

When I was a young child the word “President” automatically went with the word “Eisenhower.” To me, he was a benevolent, grandfatherly figure who always seemed to be busy doing important things. Images of him on our small black and white television were a regular feature of everyday life. Seeing him on television was always comforting, reassuring and somewhat boring in the way that adults can often be to very small children.

President Eisenhower was the person “in charge” and there was a quality of deep respect, almost reverence, for this elderly man who lived in the White House in Washington DC and took care of business. He was a very important person who had a lot of responsibilities and, even to a young boy, it was quite clear that he took those responsibilities very seriously.

Around the time I was seven years old, just as I was becoming very curious about my father’s Navy days on the PT boats, I discovered that President Eisenhower has been the supreme Allied Commander in WWII and was the American General in charge of the D-Day invasion in 1944. I will never forget the feeling of overwhelming shock that swept over me like a tidal wave when I realized what he had accomplished in WWII.

It was like learning that your gentle, kindly uncle had once been the heavyweight boxing champion. As I learned more and more about the details of the Normandy Invasion, I was awestruck every time I saw President Eisenhower on TV. When I discovered that PT boats had played a supporting role in the invasion–doing minesweeping work and helping to rescue Allied troops whose landing craft had been hit–my admiration for “Ike” soared even higher. The PT sailors where helping General Eisenhower implement his great plan.

President Eisenhower made me feel safe and protected. Even during the 1950s when the country was gripped with fear about the atomic bomb and we were learning how to hide under our desks in grade school, I believed that President Eisenhower knew how to keep us safe and would be a deterrent against the threats of the Russians and their bombs.

I am sad for our young children today whose earliest image of a president will be that of a raging fool who mocks disabled people, denigrates women, inflames the impact of a deadly pandemic outbreak, and lends support to hate groups in America and murderous despots around the globe. Children don’t miss much–and you can trust me on that.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to restore dignity, decency, and genuine leadership to the office of the presidency. It has been reassuring to see long lines of my fellow Americans waiting to vote all around the country. And I feel certain that the vast majority of those waiting patiently to vote want to evict the shameless loser from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as much as I do.

We can do this. And we will.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt of the First US Volunteer Calvary in the Spanish American War

My grandmother Mary Agnes Stahley, idolized President Theodore Roosevelt (aka TR). As I child, I loved to hear Nana Stahley tell the stories of “Teddy” Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and their exploits in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The famous attack of the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill had become the stuff of legend by the time of Nana’s birth in 1905.

After his service leading the First Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was elected the Governor of New York. In 1900, he joined the Republican presidential ticket as William McKinley’s Vice Presidential candidate. Following McKinley’s death from an assassin’s bullet in 1901, TR became president at the age of 42. His political career was marked by vigorous anti-corruption work, forward looking environmental policies, and the receipt of the Nobel Prize for peace for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1906.

And that’s just for starters when it comes to TR’s accomplishments.

As a young adolescent, doing her best to survive during the flu pandemic of 1918 and take care of her five younger siblings after the death of their mother, the example of Teddy Roosevelt inspired my grandmother and gave her a leader to emulate–and did she ever. Nana not only survived the pandemic, she made sure that all of her siblings survived as well. All of them–Bill, Peg, George (Reds), Catherine (Cass) and Joe went on to live productive, prosperous lives.

To me, Nana’s life was an embodiment of the spirit that Teddy Roosevelt brought into American life in the earliest days of the twentieth century. That spirit was defined by it’s hard-charging, keep-moving-forward, don’t-look-back ethos that stiffened the spines of so many Americans who were overwhelmed with twin realities of the First World War and the flu pandemic of 1918.

I know that Nana passed on a generous share of that “TR Moxie” to her son, George Junior, who carried it with him when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1943 and opted for volunteer-only service on the PT boats. The sailors of the Mosquito Fleet were the naval equivalent of TR’s Rough Riders — brash, energetic, edgy, and ready to steer their small boats into the heart of the hottest fights with little regard for the outcome.

I am calling on Nana’s guidance from above to help our nation rise up like Teddy Roosevelt and his soldiers in this election season. We need to serve up one great big ass-kicking to the vulgar hyena in the White House and all his spineless GOP toadies in the Congress and Statehouses across the land.

We can do it.

And we will do it, just like Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill to victory in 1898.

Mary A Stahley and her son, George in 1925
Harry Truman’s Army ID card

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as president. Truman had been vice president for all of 82 days. The war in Europe was almost over but the Pacific theater was another story altogether.

Losing FDR was a massive blow to the sailors and marines who were fighting an enemy, the forces of Imperial Japan, who was growing more desperate and dangerous by the day. The fighting was fierce, brutal, and often at close quarters. Casualties were heavy and growing heavier by the hour.

Harry Truman was an artilleryman in World War I. He enlisted at age 33 in 1917 and by August of 1918, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded an American field artillery unit that saw action in France.

Truman’s unit had a reputation for brawling, heavy drinking, and insubordination when he assumed command. He moved quickly to impose discipline and lay down the law. By the end of the war, Truman had earned the undying loyalty, respect, and admiration of his soldiers–loyalty that would last a lifetime and bolster his political career in Missouri.

A few years before his death in 1999, Red and I were talking about American presidents and the discussion turned to presidents who had served in the military. I was not familiar with Truman’s service in the First World War, and my father was only too happy to fill me in.

“It was tough to lose FDR when we did, ” he said. “But Truman stepped right up to the plate. I can’t imagine any president who had to take on a challenge that big. We learned very quickly that he was a real leader who had no problem making decisions.” I asked him what he thought of Truman as a man.

” Harry was one tough SOB,” my father said. “He didn’t take any shit from anybody.”

That was high praise from Red Stahley. Actually, it was the highest praise possible.

I can only remember one other person to whom my father paid that compliment — Chuck Bednarik, the legendary center and linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Like Red, Bednarik was a WWII veteran who served in the Army Air Force as a waist gunner on a B-24 Bomber. As an Eagle, Bednarik played both ways (offense and defense) and led Philadelphia to the 1960 NFL championship over the Green Bay Packers. That was one game Red loved to talk about. And it was that “tough SOB Bednarik” who delivered the victory for Philadelphia.

In speaking about the presidency, Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.” And he lived by that credo. Contrast that with the buck-passing, blame shifting, spineless hyena who currently holds the highest office in the land — a pathetic degenerate who would not be worthy to shine the shoes of a man like Harry S. Truman.

President Harry Truman meets with Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, and Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, at the Potsdam Conference in 1945
Union General Ulysses S. Grant

If you’re looking for a straight up contrast between a winner and a total loser, look no further than President Ulysses S. Grant and the current occupant of the White House.

Grant knew how to win–and he did. Case closed.

Grant was smarter than Confederate General Robert E. Lee, more daring than Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and more tenacious than Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnson. Combine all the attributes of those three rebel commanders and they amount to less than half of what Ulysses S. Grant brought to the field in every battle he fought.

Earlier this year, the History Channel did an excellent six hour miniseries on the life and career of Ulysses S. Grant. It documents the remarkable story of a true American hero who is only now beginning to receive the esteem, respect, and gratitude he so richly deserves.

Check it out the two-minute trailer for this superb miniseries–

/www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhzBYakZZW0

FDR at Hyde Park, New York

Although he was diagnosed with polio at age 39 and struggled with the disease for most of his career in public office, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a model of indomitable strength, unbreakable resolve, and intellectual brilliance. He led the nation out of the Great Depression and through the darkest days of World War II. As Commander-in-Chief of America’s Armed Forces, his personal example inspired the troops without pause or hesitation.

As we endure these chaotic days with a leadership vacuum larger than the Grand Canyon, let us never forget presidents like FDR who summoned the best from all Americans and united our country with a sense of common purpose and determination. FDR’s physical disability was something that only made him stronger and more resilient.

My father told me many times how President Roosevelt inspired him and always made him want to do his best to serve the country, “We had a Commander-in-Chief who was as brave as any sailor, marine, or soldier that I ever met,” Red told me when I was a young boy. “FDR wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody. He was a tower of strength.”

Remembering my father’s words really, really helps me these days. We’re going to make it through this dismal chapter and return our nation to the values which have always made it strong–decency, honor, and integrity. Thank God we have the example of presidents like FDR to help us navigate through this fetid swamp of corruption, vulgarity, bigotry, and hate.

Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves what a real president looks like. Images like these are helping me get through days like this–and I hope they’ll be a comfort to you.

Posted by: SJS | September 28, 2020

PT 59 – no losers or suckers on board

On November 1, 1943, a detachment of US Marines was pinned down on a narrow strip of beach at the mouth of the Warrior River on Choiseul Island–a part of the Solomon’s Archipelago. Japanese forces in the surrounding jungle had the marines trapped on the sand and there was no escape.

PT 59 roared up to the beach at Warrior River with guns blazing and pulled her bow forward until her hull was scraping the bottom. The PT sailors jumped into action and began helping the marines up onto the 59. The boat’s deck guns kept pouring fire on the enemy. The firefight was intense and unrelenting.

Ten marines made it onto the 59. One of the marines was wounded very badly. The skipper ordered his crewmen to place the wounded marine in his (the skipper’s) bunk and do everything possible to tend to his wounds. Then PT 59 made her escape.

On the return trip to PT base, the young marine–who hailed from Illinois–died in the skipper’s bunk. Overwhelmed with exhaustion and grief, the skipper wept openly for the brave young marine who died that day.

The skipper of PT 59 was Lieutenant John F. Kennedy. Under his personal supervision, the boat had been transformed into a heavily armed gunboat–the ideal type of craft for close enemy encounters in tight situations like the firefight to rescue the marines on Choiseul Island. Kennedy was so hungry to put the 59 into action that there was a high level of concern among his crew. They were worried that his eagerness to fight might cause him to be reckless.

The rescue mission led by Kennedy in November of 1943 came four months after the loss of PT 109. Instead of taking an assignment for light duty or returning to the States, Kennedy had requested another command following the traumatic experience of the 109. The boat he was given, PT 59, was badly damaged and needed heavy repair work.

Kennedy seized the opportunity to turn PT 59 into a fierce naval weapon. As his Japanese adversaries discovered on that November day in 1943, the boat and her crew were all business and game for a fight.

After he became the skipper of PT 59, five of his former crewmembers from PT 109 signed onto his new boat. From mid-October to mid-November of 1943, PT 59 made 13 patrols. And the skipper and his crew saw plenty of action over those four weeks. In every encounter with Japanese vessels and aircraft, they gave as good as they got.

As we endure these chaotic and frightening times in our country, I have thought often of John F. Kennedy and his fierce courage and bold leadership during the dark days of World War II. What he brought with him to the presidency was a distinguished record of military service, a deep love for the men and women who served in our nation’s armed forces, and the fortitude to stand up to despots–especially those of the Russian variety.

As president, Kennedy made his share of mistakes and he was far from a perfect human being. What he offered to his nation, however, was an example of a life based on courage, service to others, and an extraordinary ability to demonstrate grace under pressure. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he showed to America–and the world–how true leadership was able to transform an enormous crisis into a triumph for freedom.

May the abiding example of John F. Kennedy remind us that when we put the needs of others above our own needs and act with courage, we embody the very best of what it means to be an American.

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