Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2018

PT action on December 7, 1941

The first encounter between the PT boats of the US Navy and the forces of Imperial Japan occurred on December 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  On that fateful Sunday morning, PT crews of Squadron (Ron) 1 were just finishing breakfast when the Duty Officer, Ensign N.E. Ball, spotted the insignia of the Rising Sun on the the low flying planes and immediately gave the order to “man the guns!”  The crews quickly returned to their boats and the Machinist Mates dashed into the engine room to start the air compressor which provided air for the two twin .50 caliber machine gun turrets.  As some PT sailors manned the guns, other crewmen started breaking out and belting ammunition.  They worked as highly efficient teams as they jumped into action.

They soon opened fire on the Japanese torpedo plans as they flew over the PT boats on their flying patterns to bomb the American battleships berthed in the harbor.  As the planes were flying away from the PTs, gunners on PT 23 were able to draw a bead on them and then maintain a steady stream of tracers onto the underside of the planes,  One plane burst into flames and crashed near Kuahua Island.  The tracer streams from other PT boat guns found a second torpedo plane, which was seen to fall to the sea in flames in the vicinity of Halawa.

It was later confirmed that the PT boats were the first vessels that opened fire on the enemy and the first to knock Japanese planes out of the sky.  December 7th, 1941 was the first day that the PTs would tangle with the forces of Imperial Japan.  Their success against those enemy planes that day was a portent of greater things to come.

My thanks to my son, Thomas, who turned up this remarkable piece of PT history as part of a research paper he recently completed for an American history course he is currently taking in college.  He discovered the Pearl Harbor information in: American PT Boats in World War II by Victor Chun–a superb volume loaded with valuable PT history and photos. Thomas turned up many other valuable pieces of PT history through his careful investigation.

The photos from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. show the legendary “Twin 50s” machine guns.  The Twin 50s were the standard armament on all PTs in WWII.  They were a  potent weapon that every PT officer and enlisted sailor could use at a moment’s notice–especially against enemy aircraft.

Posted by: SJS | December 2, 2018

George H.W. Bush – RIP

We honor the memory of President George Herbert Walker Bush who passed away on November 30th.  He was the last president who served in World War II.  He was also the last president who saw combat.  President Bush had a distinguished military career, flying 58 missions as the pilot of a torpedo bomber that flew from aircraft carriers in the Pacific theater of the war, getting shot down twice in the process.  His rescue by a USN submarine in September of 1944 after being hit by Japanese gunners is the stuff of legend.

Like Red Stahley, George H.W. Bush entered the service as a very young man and grew into adulthood facing the horrors and dangers of war.  The fierce experience of combat shaped their view of the world and gave them a perspective that influenced the rest of their lives.  While their paths never crossed in life, I’m sure that President Bush and my father would have enjoyed comparing notes about their experiences as part of the US Navy during those momentous years.

With gratitude and respect, we honor a man who served his nation with courage, daring, and grace.  As both a military man and an elected official, he gave his best and set an example of dedication and decency.  Among his many qualities, President Bush was known for his kindness and his sense of humor.

To all the Bush family, we offer our prayers, our condolences, and our gratitude.  May God bless President Bush with rest and peace.  He will be missed.

Posted by: SJS | November 21, 2018

JFK – The rescue at Warrior River by PT 59

On November 1, 1943, barely three months after the horrific experience of PT 109, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was in command of PT 59 when that boat participated in a daring rescue mission on the island of Choiseul in the Solomon Islands at the mouth of the Warrior River.  The arrival of PT 59 at around 6:00 pm on November 1st found a detachment of US Marines pinned down on the beach, taking heavy fire from Japanese forces in the surrounding jungle.  Kennedy had overseen the transformation of PT 59 into a heavily armed gunboat and on the evening of November 1st, all of that additional weaponry was put to full use in the ferocious exchange of fire between the Americans and the Japanese.

With the help of the PT crew, 10 of the evacuating marines made it onto PT 59.  One of the rescued marines, a severely wounded young marine from Illinois, Corporal Edward James Schnell, was laid in Kennedy’s bunk on PT 59 as the boat made its escape from the Warrior River and back towards the base at Lambu Lambu Cove.  Early in the morning of November 2nd, the young marine died from his wounds.  Kennedy had instructed the crew to put Schnell in his bunk when the rescued marines were pulled onto PT 59.  And Kennedy checked in on him several times over the course of the return trip. The death of Corporal Schnell hit Kennedy hard, reminding him of the loss of his fellow sailors on the 109.

After the sinking of PT 109 and the harrowing experiences of its crew in early August of 1943, Kennedy had a ticket out of the fighting in the South Pacific.  Instead, he volunteered to take command of another PT boat, PT 59, which he led on thirteen patrols between October 18 and November 18, 1943.  Before the engagement at the Warrior River, PT 59 had been bombed several times by Japanese planes and engaged with enemy barges.  Five sailors who had been part of Kennedy’s 109 crew signed on to be part of his new crew on the 59–quite a tribute to JFK’s impact on the sailors under his command.

As we prepare to observe the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, it’s important to remember that his WWII experience included much, much more than the wreckage of PT 109 and Kennedy’s courage and leadership in the events that followed.  JFK’s decision to accept another command while still recovering from the trauma that followed the sinking of PT 109 spoke volumes about his character, heroism, and sense of duty.  Those marines that were rescued by PT 59 at the Warrior River became powerful witnesses to the bold fighting spirit of all the PT crews in the South Pacific and the intrepid skippers who led them into battle, men like John F. Kennedy.

My thanks to author William Doyle for his book PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy which was a rich source of information about the Warrior River battle in 1943.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Posted by: SJS | November 10, 2018

A salute to all our Veterans on their special day.

As we prepare to celebrate Veterans’ Day this year, I’d like to offer a special word of thanks to all the women who have served our nation so courageously over the course of our history.  And a special shout out to my sister, Maryellen, who served in the US Army following her graduation from Penn State University.  Her nursing skills and compassion assisted countless soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital and other Army military locations around the nation.  Way to go, Mare!  Our family is so very proud of you.

In the above photograph, Red Stahley stands beside his buddy, Joe Mulhern, in Philly in 1944.

To all the women and men who have so generously served our nation we offer our undying gratitude for all that you’ve done for us.  God bless you all.  We could never thank you enough.

Posted by: SJS | November 2, 2018

Hatred of immigrants is anti-American

Ed O’Neill, my mother’s older brother and my Godfather, was part of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.  He lost half of his left leg thanks to the sharp eye of a Nazi sniper during the ferocious fighting as the units of the US Army pushed inland.  Growing up, I idolized Uncle Eddie–he was larger than life for me and my cousins.  Like my mother, he was the son of immigrants–one of countless brave young Americans who put their lives on the line in WWII.

Ed’s parents, my grandparents, came to the US from Ireland in the early years of the 20th century.  Barney and Nellie raised their family of eight children in the Olney section of Philadelphia.  In addition to Ed, the two youngest children in the family–Robert and Alfred–served in the US Armed forces in the immediate post-war years–Rob in the Navy and Al in the Army.  The contributions of the O’Neill family to the war effort and its aftermath were enormous.

I am sick to death of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has flooded the airwaves over the past few months.  It is vile and toxic.  Immigrants, as well as those who have sought asylum in this country, are among its greatest strengths.  We are a nation of immigrants.  As the proud grandson and great grandson of immigrants, I hope that our nation will soon recover its moral compass as well as its historical memory.

Pictured above are my baptism day in 1951 at St. Helena’s Paraish in Philadelphia with Uncle Eddie, Father Smith, and my grandmother,, Mary Young Stahley (who served as a proxy for my Godmother, Aunt Miriam Keichline who lived in California), Eddie holding me at the party, and Eddie in uniform in 1944.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | October 30, 2018

“Did you vote?”

PT 367 of Ron 27 in 1945

PT 367 ready for action

There were few things Red enjoyed more than a spirited discussion (aka- a heated argument).  Whether the topic was sports, religion, or politics,  my father relished the give-and-take on the major topics of the day.  He had a good career in sales but I’ve often wondered if he would’ve been happier as a lawyer arguing cases in a courtroom in front of a judge.  By temperament, inclination, and personality, Red was well suited to a career that involved disputation.

While I can’t remember whether the setting was a family gathering or a discussion with a neighbor,  I do have a distinct recollection of the topic on that long ago day in Philly.  Red and his interlocutor were engaged in an intense dialogue about the results in the aftermath of an election.  To say their opinions diverged widely would be a massive understatement.  The temperature of the conversation was rising rapidly.  I have to confess that I was enjoying the debate, especially since I wasn’t on the receiving end of Red’s barbed comments.

Then my father asked, “did you vote?”

“No,” said the other guy.

“Discussion over.  We’re done now,” said Red.

“What? Oh, come on…” said the other guy.

“I’m not going to waste my time talking politics with some deadbeat who doesn’t even bother to vote,” said Red.

“That’s ridiculous!” said the other guy.  He clearly had no idea who he was tangling with that day.  I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next.

“You’re ridiculous yourself,” said my father.  “I served in Europe and the South Pacific to protect our way of life and you can’t even get off your fat ass to vote? I lost buddies in the Med and the Philippines and you can’t bother to exercise your right to vote?  I’m not wasting my time with slackers like you.”

And that was that.  I’ve never forgotten that exchange.  I never will– and I hope you won’t either. So go vote if your state has early voting or carve out the time on November 6th to exercise the franchise.

Too many brave men and women have sacrificed too much to preserve that precious right for you.

And don’t ever forget it.

 

Posted by: SJS | October 26, 2018

Nationalism in action — echoes of hate

As interested as I was in the military history of WWII–and the role my father played as a PT boat radioman–another consuming interest I had as a young boy was about the causes of the war, especially in Europe.  I distinctly remember my father explaining to me, in words that a seven year-old could understand, that Germany and Italy were examples of Nationalism.  Hitler and Mussolini were ardent nationalists, Red told me, and their nationalist beliefs led them to ruin.  When I pressed him for more details, about nationalism, he quickly supplied them:  a belief in the superiority of one’s nation and the inferiority of other nations,  a fear and hatred of people of other nations,  and a particular hatred toward Jewish people.

On the world stage, as well as here at home, it is clear that virulent nationalism is on the march again.  The two photographs above–Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and Berlin, Germany in 1933–are vivid reminders of what nationalism looks like.  Nationalists of every era seem to have a fondness for carrying torches and chanting vile slogans that are bristling with vile racism like “Blood and Soil,” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The chilling similarity between these two photographs should give us pause and then jolt us into reality.

We now have a president who proudly declares himself a “nationalist.”  He has become an icon for white nationalists at home and a fawning admirer of repressive nationalists around the globe.  His rallies incite violence and sow the seeds of division among the citizens of our country.  We are now living through a period of resurgent nationalism right in the US and it is ugly, dangerous, and fiercely acrimonious.

Despite the perilous times we must now endure, we have at our disposal the most powerful and effective tool that democracy has to offer–we have the right to vote.  As citizens we can, and we must, make our voices heard.  The approaching midterm election allows us to weigh in on the future of our local community, our state and our country.

And every time I step into the election booth, I remember another lesson that my father taught me from my earliest years.   “I fought to protect our democratic freedoms and I had buddies who died fighting for those freedoms,” he told me more than once.  As soon as I hit voting age, he amped up the message as only Red could.  “Get your ass out there and vote,” he said, “and don’t ever let me find out that you skipped an election because you thought it wasn’t important enough.  Every election counts.”

Those are words I’ll never forget.  And the best I can do right now is to urge everyone out there to do the same.

So vote like your rights depend on it–because they do.

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | October 18, 2018

Japanese coastal patrol boat

From the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. I came across this photo of a Japanese coastal patrol boat.  I have not been able to determine where these boats were deployed by the Imperial Japanese Navy but perhaps someone in the extended PT network can furnish more information about these craft.  Upon seeing this photo, I was amazed at their resemblance to the PTs.  Whether or not these boats carried torpedoes is an open question.  I would love to know if there were ever any encounters between the Japanese coastal patrol boats and the PTs.

From my father’s accounts of his time in the South Pacific, the PTs in Squadron (Ron) 27 were used primarily for jungle river patrols and missions to disrupt Japanese barge traffic.  This photo was a revelation to me.

Posted by: SJS | October 3, 2018

A trophy in the Med

In an undated photo shows the Nazi swastika emblem hung on the side of a PT boat somewhere in the Mediterranean as the symbol of a kill.  Whether the emblem is a trophy for a downed German fighter or a ship, it hangs as the mark of a vanquished foe.  In my opinion, it is the only appropriate place for this enduring symbol of racism, fascism, and hate to be displayed.

Few things triggered my father’s anger more than the sight of the swastika.  Red hated all that it stood for and he was not shy about expressing his opinion about it.  The only good swastikas were the ones decorating the sides of PT boats.

Posted by: SJS | September 25, 2018

Samar from the air

Red relaxing on Samar

Red at ease on Samar 1945

An aerial photo of the Philippine island of Samar, the site of PT Base 17–one of the largest in the South Pacific.  And a photo of my father that was identified by place and date–a rare treasure of information.

During his service in PT Squadron (Ron) 27, it was on this base where Red spent most of his time when he was off the water.  It was at this site that he developed a reputation for his radio skills that connected many of his good buddies to their families back in the States.  Upon seeing the photo of Samar in this photo taken from an aircraft, I was struck by the fact that a  big city boy from Philly found himself stationed in this village of a PT base on the other side of the world and spent his time and his talents easing the homesickness of so many of his fellow sailors.

If the opportunity ever presents itself, I would love to visit Samar and walk the beaches and wade in the water where my father did some of his best work–both as a fighting man in the USN and as a humanitarian helping so many of his fellow sailors.

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