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.

Posted by: SJS | September 26, 2020

PT 221 leans in

The bow of PT 221 slices through the water with her crew on deck poised and ready for whatever lay ahead. This stunning photo embodies the velocity, aggressiveness, and battle readiness that was so characteristic of the PTs.

In the stories my father shared with me when I was a young child, he never failed to emphasize the speed and agility of the boats. I remember him using his hands to demonstrate how the 373 would bounce over the water’s surface at full throttle. While he was often busy at the boat’s radio below deck, there were plenty of opportunities for him to be on deck when the 373 gunned those Packard engines and hit top speed.

Posted by: SJS | September 9, 2020

PT training run at Melville

A striking color photo of PT sailors on the 20 mm anti-aircraft gun near the stern of a boat on a training run at Melville, Rhode Island. The wake trailing off the boat gives a good indication of the velocity of the PT as it makes its way across the water’s surface.

Although Red’s expertise was as a radioman, I’m sure that he put in his share of training hours on this gun. Every PT sailor received training in every aspect of the boat’s operation so that the skipper could deploy them as needed.

Getting comfortable with a weapon like this was an essential part of preparation for the PT sailors. And it served as a stark reminder that things could turn on a dime in combat.

For the sailors in the Navy’s Mosquito Fleet, the old navy slogan “All hands on deck” was not a clich√©.

This photo is from the archives of the PT Museum.

Posted by: SJS | September 4, 2020

Red’s Commanders-in-Chief

Over the course of years in the US Navy, Red Stahley served under two Commanders-in-Chief– Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. He never doubted for a second that the presidents he served were men of honor, integrity, and principle. Red knew from the time of his enlistment to the day he received his honorable discharge that his Commander-in-Chief always had his back.

Perhaps one day–soon–we will again have a president who respects the men and women of our armed forces; a president who will not refer to fallen soldiers as “losers” and “suckers;” a president who would never denigrate patriotic Americans like John McCain and George H. W. Bush as losers for being captured or shot down by hostile forces.

Perhaps one day–soon–our nation will cease being pitied and ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the world and our brave military personnel will have a commander-in-chief who will not abide a Russian president who places bounties on the heads of our fighting forces in Afghanistan.

Perhaps one day–soon–we will have a president who is not a pathological liar, a vile racist, and a person who holds Confederate generals in higher esteem than the noble Union Generals who led the fight to preserve the United States and end slavery.

Let’s get busy and do all we can to restore honor and decency to the highest office in the land. We have to vote like our future of our democracy depends on it–because it does.

Posted by: SJS | August 23, 2020

PT 487 from the air

PT 487 overhead view

A stunning aerial photograph of PT 487 from the air.

The stark beauty of this black and white photograph captures the energy and grace of a PT boat moving swiftly across the surface of the ocean.  Images like this one always help me to fill out the picture of my father as a young crewman, working as part of a tight team, moving their boat towards whatever awaits them in the darkness ahead.

As I continue on my journey of discovery about the WWII service of Red Stahley, the more in awe I become of what he and his crewmates accomplished in their defense of our nation.

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