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.

Posted by: SJS | September 5, 2018

Annapolis burial of a Navy hero

Whether it was the annual Army-Navy game, an old movie about the US Navy in WWII, or following the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy during 1960, my father relished every opportunity to make contact with his USN roots.  As I checked out the news coverage and photographs of John McCain’s burial at Annapolis on Sunday, I could easily imagine Red’s swelling pride as the Navy laid to rest one of its proudest sons.

I was especially impressed by the prominent role played by the enlisted men–sailors who wore the uniform that my father wore during his time as an enlisted serviceman during WWII.  In their striking whites with the distinctive cap, the Navy’s sailors bore their fallen comrade to his final resting place on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  With immense dignity, solemn reverence, and military precision, the officers and enlisted men reminded us yet again of what is best in our nation.

At a time when we are being ill served and shamefully embarrassed by political leaders, religious institutions, and the avarice of corporate interests, how fortunate we have been over the past two weeks to see what true American greatness is really all about.  The story of John McCain’s heroism, the profound beauty of the military funeral rituals, and impressive family bonds that have held the McCain’s together have borne witness to the deepest values of American life–honor, sacrifice, and duty.

 

Posted by: SJS | August 31, 2018

Rest In Peace, John McCain

As our nation continues to honor the life and service of John McCain we remember in a special way his distinguished career in the United States Navy.  The details of his military service are well known, especially his captivity in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down in 1967.

In the photos above, McCain shakes hands with President Richard Nixon in 1973, revisits the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison where he was held for over five years, and on the flight deck of a US carrier (far right) with fellow Navy airmen in the mid-1960s.

Because of my father’s WWII service in the US Navy, I felt a bond with Senator McCain that I have felt with few other elected leaders.  Knowing how deeply his Navy service influenced his life, his values, and his spirit of service to our country, I am grateful for his presence on the national stage.

May John McCain rest in God’s peace and may his family experience God’s consolation at this time of loss.  We give thanks to God for the life and witness of this fine and decent man who served his country with honor, dignity, and immense courage.

 

 

On Thursday, August 23, the remains of Navy Lt. William F. Liebenow were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  He died last year at age 97.  He is remembered primarily as the commander of PT 157, the man who saved the life of Skipper John F. Kennedy and the other crew members of PT 109 who had survived the destruction of their boat which was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer in August, 1943.

The famous story of Kennedy’s message carved into a coconut, “11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT,” that was carried by two Pacific Islanders to an Australian coast watcher who relayed the message to the US Navy base on the island of Rendova was recounted at the ceremony for Lt. Liebenow.  It was his boat, PT 157 and its crew,  that was sent on the highly dangerous rescue mission behind enemy lines that resulted in the rescue  of Kennedy and his crew.

While the rescue of the PT 109 is the best known story about Lt. Liebenow, his PT career had other equally heroic parts to it.  During the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, the year after the Kennedy rescue, Liebenow commanded a PT boat that rescued more than 60 men from a sinking ship.  Evading the Nazi shore guns, Liebenow again performed heroic service as part of the Allied invasion of France that would turn the tide of the war in Europe.

In 1960,  when Kennedy was running for president. William Liebenow campaigned with him in Michigan.  The epic rescue story from WWII had already become a major part of Kennedy lore and it played a prominent role in the positive publicity for the young Senator Kennedy.  There is a famous story of a Kennedy-Liebenow conversation during the Michigan campaign swing when JFK said he regularly met veterans who swore they were on the boat that rescued him in the South Pacific.

“Lieb,” Kennedy told his old friend, “If I get the votes of everyone that claims to have been on your boat the night of the pickup I’ll win in a landslide.”

Reflecting on the heroic story of William Liebenow and the valiant and selfless service he rendered to our country in WWII, I am reminded yet again of why the memory of the PT sailors commands such respect and admiration. Whether they were officers or enlisted men, they put their lives on the line every time they went out on a mission.  Their service was often in the places where the conflicts were the most intense–Normandy, the Mediterranean, and the South Pacific.  Their adversaries where better armed and often better positioned.  The PT crews relied on their wits, their courage, and each other–as the Liebenow-Kennedy friendship makes clear.  They represented the very best our country had to offer.

My Lt. Liebenow rest in peace and may his family know God’s consolation.  His story will continue to serve as an inspiration for all who love our nation.

 

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