Posted by: SJS | February 18, 2011


Semaphore was a system of signaling using hand held flags.  In addition to mastering Morse Code for radio and blinker (flashing lights) communication, PT boat radiomen were experts in semaphore.  As the communication specialists on board, the radiomen maintained links with other boats as well as the base.  While they were trained as specialists, the radiomen (like every other crewmember on a PT boat) had to be ready to do whatever was needed: man a machine gun on the deck, launch a torpedo, or steer the boat.  As one PT veteran told me, “On a PT boat, everybody had to be ready to do anything, and often on a moment’s notice.” 

Red works the flags

Red works the flags

We live in the age of Twitter and Facebook and Skype.  It is important, however, to remember that the sailors and soldiers who fought in WWII had highly sophisticated communication skills.  And they were often required to use those skills in situations of enormous danger and uncertainty.  Since most PT boat patrols took place at night, radiomen like Red Stahley and Tom Saffles were the “eyes and ears” of those daring boats doing their work in dark, hostile waters.


  1. Steve, I find myself reading your blog, and wondering how you can keep it so short. You tickle my interest with an anecdote and leave me ready for more. This is a great tribute to your dad and many others.
    My dad also served in the Navy, but he rarely spoke about what he did. Only in his advanced years did I learn he did not go overseas, but instead printed highly secretive maps that were obtained through espionage. Even then, dad only spoke in generalities. I’m looking forward to reading more of your entries.
    By the way, you sure look like your dad!

  2. Pete,

    Thanks for your words of support. They are much appreciated. When I was a very young child, my father shared a few of his Navy stories with me. We didn’t talk about those stories again until a few years before his death in 1999. At that point, it was clear to me that he had a lot more to share. Unfortunately life got too busy and I didn’t follow up; then he got sick and passed away. I didn’t pick up the thread until last year, when I obtained his records and started connecting with the PT vets.
    The work your father did in the war was clearly vital and played a major role in naval operations. Those maps no doubt provided significant intelligence to ships and planes and saved Allied lives as well. I salute his Navy service!

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