Posted by: SJS | March 26, 2020

The pandemic of 1918 shaped Red’s life

Mary Young Stahley 1926

Red with his parents 1944

Red and his parents 1944

In 1918, in the midst of the horrific flu pandemic that swept through Philadelphia like a ravenous army of dog-sized locusts, my grandmother, Mary Young, lost her mother in a matter of 72 hours.  Mary was 13 years old at the time and she had five younger siblings. Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, was a Philadelphia fireman.  She dropped out of school in the sixth grade and never went back.  She raised those siblings–Bill, Peg, George, Catherine, and Joe.  For the rest of their lives, treated Mary with love, deep affection, and the reverence that one shows to a mother.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the loss of my great-grandmother in the flu epidemic of 1918 shaped the life of our family–even until the present moment.  My grandmother lived under the shadow of her mother’s death for the rest of her life–but it never dimmed her fierce determination to live life to its fullest.

To us, her grandchildren, Nana, was like a force of nature.  I may have known more energetic persons growing up but, if so, I surely cannot remember who they were.  Nana was about everything.  She had that rare gift of being able to live each day as if it were her last.

My father was her only child and she loved him with a fierce, possessive love that was almost smothering.  When my father left for the Navy in 1943, Nana was overwhelmed with fear that was almost at the level of panic.  I have no doubt that every day of my father’s navy service in WWII was a day consumed with worry, deep anxiety, and dread. I well remember the stories she told me as a child–Nana transfixed me with her stories of her childhood and all that she experienced.

I am convinced that one of the reasons my father survived the war, perhaps the most important reason, was because of the gifts that his mother gave him.  Red never doubted for a moment that he was loved with a ferocious, overwhelming love that gave him a level of confidence that was almost towering.  He took with him into the navy a bit of a swagger that served him well in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.  Red’s self confidence, skepticism, and edgy sense of humor made him a perfect fit for PT service.

Like all the PT boys, Red radiated an energy that said (shouted), “Go ahead, knock this chip off my shoulder.  Go ahead…”

Red fit right in with his mates who took their brash confidence onto their small boats and out onto dark waters to take it to enemies with bigger boats, fighter planes, shore batteries, and mines.  The attitude was always, “bring it on.”

Nana survived the flu epidemic and all the monstrous losses it delivered.  Red survived all the the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could throw at him.  Their blood flows in our veins and when you combine that with the O’Neill blood we received from my mother’s side–well–we’ve received quite a pedigree.

Nana survived the flu epidemic and Red survived the forces of death in WWII and we will survive this frightening time.

Please stay safe, take all necessary precautions, and just do the things that must be done in these dark and difficult days.

God bless us all.






















  1. I really like the perspective and motivation this blog provided for us to find in our own heritage during this difficult time.

  2. Very nice reminder that we too can get through this most difficult time.

  3. Thank you and good luck to us all. Stay safe mate, you and yours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: