Posted by: SJS | February 15, 2011

Tom Saffles and “Red” together in Ron 27

Earlier this month, my sister Mary Ellen and I visited Tom Saffles and his wife, Irene, in Springville, Alabama.  Tom and Dad were best friends in the Navy and it was Tom who revealed to us that Dad’s nickname was “Red” (thus the name of the blog).  We made the connection with Tom through PT Boats, Inc. 

They were both trained as radiomen and served in the same squadrons during the war.  During their time in the South Pacific as part of Ron 27, Tom was assigned to PT 359 and Red was assigned to PT 373.  If they weren’t hanging around together on the base, they were communicating with each other via radio from their separate boats. 

They shared a particularly harrowing experience on the night of July 9/10, 1945.  Pt 359 and PT 373 were sent to destroy a Japanese radar station on Balabalagan Island, located in the straight between the much larger islands of Borneo and Celebes.  As they were strafing the buildings and a tower on the island, the two PT boats came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire.

Tom Saffles and Red Stahley in the South Pacific

Tom Saffles and Red Stahley in the South Pacific

  A crewmate on Tom’s boat was fatally wounded while a man on Red’s boat was severely injured by gunfire.  The details of the mission are recounted in the book At Close Quarters:  PT Boats in the United States Navy  by Captain Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., the definitive text on PT Boat operations in WWII. 

In sharing his recollection of that mission, Tom told us that the man who was killed on his boat had just switched positions with him on the bow of PT 359.  They had exchanged gun positions minutes before coming under intense enemy fire.  The dying sailor fell at Tom’s feet as he continued to man his machine gun.

As a young child, my father had shared with me the story of the mission to destroy the enemy radar tower, the mission on which one of his crewmates was seriously wounded.  I knew it was a pivotal moment in his navy career.  After visiting his closest buddy from the war I realized that the experience had an even greater impact on my father than I knew.


  1. Thanks for the email! I just had to click on the link and look. I love your narrative style; this is so very intereting. I’ve subscribed to the site by email — I figured we could watch things grow from the outside!

    • Vicki,

      Thanks for the encouraging words and thank you again for your technical support which made this blog possible. Your guidance on the project has been such a tremendous help.

      Your subscription to the blog was the first one. Thanks also for that.

  2. Stephen,
    So very good to hear from you and to read your work on George’s Navy service. Of course, as much younger cousins we were not aware of his WWII experiences and it is very nice that you are helping to keep his service and the service of the many Vets like him alive through your blog.
    There are so few left from that era. In my mothers family we have one Uncle still alive who served in the Pacific on Guadalcanal, New Caladonia, and other landing sites. These were truly the bravest of what Tom Brokaw properly labeled “The Greatest Generation”. Your work reminds me that I must again visit with him to honor his service.
    Again thanks.

    • George,

      How wonderful to hear from you and receive your kind comments. Like Brokaw, I do believe that the men and women who stepped forward and served in the military during WWII were the bravest of “The Greatest Generation.” For years, I’ve intended to compile the stories my father shared with me and transmit them in narrative form. It’s an honor for me to share the stories with family and friends. Thanks again for your support. Stephen

  3. Great start! It’s got me interested and I already know a lot of the story!

    • Mare,

      Thanks for the good words. It was great to make the journey to Alabama with you to meet Tom Saffles and his family and learn so much more about Dad before he was Dad (aka Red). This has been a labor of love and it’s a great thing to be sharing it with so many members of the family.


  4. Steve,

    I want to thank you and Mary Ellen publically for your visit with my father in Alabama. The ” Stahley” name is an honored name in my family and now I can finally put faces to that name. You continue to honor your father with this blog. My family and I are following closely and truely enjoy every entry. As I told you in my email, my only regret is not having the opportunity to meet your dad — I feel as though I know him — however I did receive the great honor of meeting his family. That is one of the great blessings of my life! I pass EVERYTHING along to my dad and it has really brought back some great memories of his friend “Red”. May God Bless You and Your Family Always Sincerely, The Saffles

  5. Tommy,

    Thanks very much for your supportive words. Our visit to your family in early February felt like a gift directly from the hand of God. When you dad called me in October of last year after seeing my little ad in the PT newsletter (“All Hands”) I could barely believe I was talking with the man who my father had spoken about with such warmth and affection for so many years. Before getting off the phone that evening, I knew that we’d be coming to Alabama to see him. Our time with your parents, you and all your beautiful family was wonderful beyond the power of words to express. Being with you all, I knew right away what drew my dad to Tom-a generous, loving heart and a sense of humor that enlivens everything. Your dad has passed those gifts on to all of you. And your mother immediately made us feel like we were part of the family, and so we did. How great it was to return from Alabama carrying the joy of having a whole new bunch of relatives!

    Thank you for your great kindness to us and for your encouragement on the blog. I am so pleased to tell the story of Red and Tom and their brave crewmates who did their jobs with such amazing competence and courage.


  6. Hi To All,
    My dad was in RON 27 and on Base 17, his name was John F. Cummins from Worcester,MA… He didn’t talk much about his Navy days. But, I’m looking for any one who knew him and might have some pictures. When my dad had a chance to go to PT Boats in Fall River,Ma. he acted like a kid in a candy store showing us how the PT’S worked. God how I miss him. So if anyone has any informatiom please email.
    Thank you and god bless the PT Boaters.

    • Hi Joann,

      It’s great to have you on the blog, thanks for your comments. My investigation into my father’s PT boat career has been the source of several amazing contacts. I hope we can assist you in finding some contacts for your father. As part of RON 27, my father was also at Base 17 in Samar where your father was. If you know what PT boat your father was on, that may help locating contacts. I’m glad that we’re able to make the history of the PTs better known. This is such an impressive story.


  7. I can confirm that the sailer killed on July 10th, 1945 in the story above was my grandmother’s husband, George D. Emmons, Jr. I was recently passed down several items, one of which was a letter from the war department stating the date referenced above and PT-359. Also included in what I received was a letter sent to my grandmother from a shipmate on PT-359 and RON 27. I’m still hoping to find out more information but am certain that George is the one mentioned in this touching story.

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