Posted by: SJS | June 18, 2011

Father’s Day

It was one year ago this weekend that I received a thick packet in the mail from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.  As a branch of the United States Archives, the NPRC holds the official documentation for many veterans of the nation’s armed forces.   

Stahley family 1926

Red Stahley and his parents in 1926

Following my initial inquiry, the capable NPRC staff located the personnel file for my father.  I was informed that the fee for photocopying and postage would be $60.00.  I suspected that the package with the records would be a thick one.  My guess was correct. 

Going through the materials I received from the NPRC I quickly began to discover that there was so much more to my father’s PT boat days in WWII than I knew and I knew a lot already.   The squadrons he was in did amazing things in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.  

Red in dress blues at Fishers Ave

Red at home in 1945

In the twelve months since Father’s Day last year, I’ve been astounded to learn so much about this man who experienced a lifetime’s worth of adventure, danger, and courage before I was ever born.   He had a nickname, Red, that I never knew until his closest navy buddy, Tom Saffles, told us about it earlier this year.  Other sailors who knew him – Franny Hart, Belton Copp, and CT Perotka – shared details about him that were revelations to me and my sisters. 

Although he died of lung cancer in November of 1999,  the influence of my father on my life has grown steadily deeper as the years have passed.  The year that is bookended by Father’s Day of 2010 and Father’s Day of 2011 has been a year marked by profound gratitude, deep appreciation, and enormous respect for my father as well as the noble men who served with him on those small, nimble boats that exemplified the highest values of the United States Navy.  Getting to know some of these PT veterans has provided me with some of the more memorable moments of my entire life.   

Like so many in his generation, George J. Stahley answered the call to duty and served where he was needed during WWII.  Following his honorable discharge in 1946, he returned to Philadelphia married Rita Marie O’Neill and raised five children.  He worked in the trucking industry as a salesman, was an avid fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Eagles, and any team that wore the uniform of Temple University.  He enjoyed the small things in life, and died much too early at 74.  He had eight grandchildren.  

Yet those are the surface facts,  the details that fill out an obituary in the hometown newspaper.  Like every human being, there were so many more dimensions to the life of “Red” Stahley. 

The true joy of researching my father’s life is how much it has expanded my understanding of how richly textured that life truly was.  He made friends who loved him deeply, even if they never saw him again after the war.  He devoted his spare time while on a PT base on Samar Island to working a MARS radio so that homesick sailors and Marines could hear the voices of their mothers half a world away in Boston or Mississippi or Oregon. 

Rita, Red, TGS

Rita and Red with grandson Thomas George Stahley 1996

Red Stahley served on plywood boats cruising hostile waters at night knowing, as all PT sailors knew, that one well-placed rifle bullet into their engine house could send  the boat – and all of them – to oblivion straightaway.   He tapped out Morse Code, helped pull a wounded comrade to safety off a deck slippery with blood, and loved nothing more than standing on the stern as PT 373 hit full throttle and moved, in one of his favorite expressions, “like a bat out of hell.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Your presence in my life is a gift.  My love for you ages like the finest wine.  And I am a fortunate son indeed.

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Responses

  1. This is a wonderful tribute to your dad on Father’s Day, Stephen. He was a great guy. We all miss him very much. It must be so interesting, uncovering the layers of your father’s life and all the history. Isn’t it a shame we didn’t ask our father’s about their experiences? Now it’s too late…..but, great that you have been able to find so much information and so many stories about your dad, that you can pass on to the family!
    Thanks for doing this!
    Cyndy

    • Cyndy,

      Thanks for your response to this post. Exploring my father’s Navy career has opened up a new dimension of my relationship with him.

      Steve

  2. This is a truly beautiful tribute to your father. Thank you for these eloquent and moving words. Happy Fathers Day

    • Lis,

      I really appreciate your kind words on this post. It meant a lot to get your supportive comment.

      Steve

  3. Steve,

    What a beautiful tribute to your dad on Father’s day. Your words about your father are truly a blessing.

    Aneise

    • Aneise,

      Thanks so much for your continued support. I was very grateful to receive your comments in resonse to my Father’s Day tribute.

      Steve


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