Posted by: SJS | December 26, 2020

Role models for surviving 2020.

Red with his parents 1944
George Sr., George Jr., and Mary Stahley

My grandmother, Mary Young Stahley, survived the influenza pandemic of 1918. After enduring the loss of her mother that year in the pandemic, Mary–at age 13–stepped into the role of mother to care for her five younger siblings. With grit, savvy, and indomitable courage she raised William, Margaret, George, Catherine, and Joseph. Their admiration, love, and passionate loyalty to their oldest sister were powerfully evident to me before I reached the age of five. Mary Young Stahley was a fighter, a survivor, and an unapologetic defender of those she loved.

My father, George “Red” Stahley, was raised by this woman whose devotion to duty and concern for others were imprinted on his soul. When Pearl Harbor was attacked he was a junior in high school. Mary’s only son, her only child, the apple of her eye, opted for military service months before he revealed his decision to his parents. As America witnessed the ferocious sea battles with Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic and the brutal encounters with Imperial Japan in the Pacific, Red sought out the recruiting office of the US Navy. He was contrary, cocksure, and a relentless champion of the underdog.

Like his mother, Red knew instinctively that the way you show your love for others is by serving them. Even if it means putting your life on the line, you serve others. That’s all there is to it. You do your duty. You do not hesitate or equivocate. It is not complicated–you serve.

As I reflect on the lives of my grandmother and my father I realize how extraordinarily fortunate I am to have their example before me, to have their genes in my body, and to have citizenship in this country that they loved so dearly.

We will survive the ravages of this gruesome pandemic. We will survive the vile, mendacious despot manqué in the White House who pardons the murderers of children, ignores the unmerited sufferings of his fellow citizens, flouts the rule of law, and whose brute incompetence unleashed the voracious energy of COVID 19 upon our nation. We will also survive the seditious, sycophantic politicians who have enabled and empowered that same raging imbecile for four long, tortured years. May the reckoning these shameless sycophants face be as crude, merciless, and cruel as they themselves are.

We will survive 2020. My grandmother and my father survived far worse. Their example is a light to my path. The witness of their lives is a continual summons to me be about the work of service to other people, to our country, and to the values of decency, civility, and duty which characterized their lives.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful and safe 2021.

Posted by: SJS | December 20, 2020

George “Red” Stahley – Happy 96th!

Stahley family in 1960 – George & Rita with their children: Maryellen, Teresa, Marguerite, Joan, and Stephen

My father was born on December 20, 1924. By the time he turned 21 in December of 1945, he had served in the European and Pacific theaters of WWII, seen parts of the world that many people have never even heard of, and absorbed the harsh reality of intense combat with his closest Navy buddy, Tom Saffles, who he never saw again after they were honorably discharged in the spring of 1946.

At the time of his death in November of 1999, I was only beginning to explore the deeper dimensions of his military career. The initial diagnosis of the lung cancer that claimed his life occurred in July of 1999 and he passed away before Thanksgiving. The opportunity for extensive, wide ranging discussions about my father’s PT days evaporated rapidly as his body was devastated by the cancer. It would be another ten years before my serious research on his navy service would begin.

George Stahley, Sr. and his son, George Jr. in 1925

Marking the 96th anniversary of the day of his birth in 1924 reminds me yet again of how much I learned from him before his death. And through my research on his PT days, the learning has continued on a scale I could never have imagined ten years ago.

So as I raise a toast to his memory with love and gratitude, I look forward to the learning that will continue as my journey of discovery takes me to new and surprising places.

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2020

December 7, 1941

American ships engulfed in flames and smoke at Pearl Harbor

It was 79 years ago today that the forces of Imperial Japan launched a surprise attack on the US Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack launched the United States into World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously described the event as “a day that will live in infamy.”

Headlines from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

As was true for so many of his friends and high school classmates, the events of December 7th quickly became a galvanizing force in Red Stahley’s decision to enter the US military as soon as he was eligible. At the time of Pearl Harbor, Red was midway through his junior year at Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia. By the time the new year of 1942 arrived, his mind was made up and he knew he was destined for the Navy.

Massive explosions overwhelm Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the attack.

The impact of the Pearl Harbor attack on Red’s life is one topic that I wish I had explored more deeply with him before his death in 1999. On that December Sunday 79 years ago, life in America was transformed in a way that is almost too enormous to measure. For one sixteen year-old boy in Philadelphia (he would turn 17 on December 20th), it was most certainly a game-changer.

For my father and his generation, things got very serious very fast. A challenge was set out before them and they embraced it without hesitation. It was a challenge that would carry them into harm’s way in remote places across the expanse of the globe. May their example continue to shine as a light for our path and a summons to do everything we can–and must do– to protect and strengthen our democratic institutions. Institutions such as free and fair elections for which their generation was willing to give their very lives.

Our challenge is to live up to their example of honor, courage, and hard work.

Posted by: SJS | November 22, 2020

November 22, 1963

It was a day that changed the course of history. And it was certainly a day that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, it felt like history was no longer something confined to textbooks or homework assignments. History was something I was living through in all of its brutal immediacy and the frightening images that were presented to us on television.

President and Ms. Kennedy in the Dallas Motorcade on November 22, 1963

I was twelve years old on that November day. By the time I went to bed that evening, felt like an old man–exhausted, confused, and deeply grief-stricken. It felt like the entire world had been turned upside down. The shock of losing a president in such a gruesome way was overwhelming and more disorienting than anything I had ever experienced in my young life.

NY Times headline November 23, 1963

Kennedy’s PT experience in WWII, an experience he shared with my father, gave him a very privileged position in my world. He was more than a president or a politician–he was a navy man who had risked his life multiple times in service to his country. For JFK’s life to end in an act of violence–violence from which he could not defend himself–was a cruel, merciless lesson in irony for a twelve year old boy who would quickly begin to learn other lessons that the world would teach about violence, injustice, and the fragility of human life.

JFK in his navy dress whites & as a young congressman

Now that fifty-seven years have passed since that horrific day in 1963, the sting and shock of JFK’s assassination have been tempered by other lessons from the life and legacy of the nation’s 35th president. Through his Navy service, Kennedy learned about sacrifice, resilience, and putting the needs of others above your own needs. Through his tenure as president, he discovered the importance of learning from your mistakes and that political courage can really take a toll on your popularity. Up to the last day of his life, JFK was learning and putting the lessons he learned into practice.

While he was far from a perfect human being, JFK’s life reminded all Americans that public service is a noble calling and that all who have served in our nation’s military are worthy of respect, admiration, and deep gratitude. The example of JFK is like a powerful light that will guide us through this turbulent and toxic era of our history.

And the legacy of JFK reminds us that Americans deserve a president who reflects our highest ideals–service, justice, fairness, empathy, and competence in governing.

How refreshing it will be to welcome those qualities back into the White House when the current occupant is shown the door on January 20, 2021.

A plaque honoring American women who served
The crew of a PT Tender pose with their mascot
A Marine gun captain points out a Kamikaze plane aiming for a US Destroyer

On Veterans Day, we salute all those who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States. As the son of a WWII Navy veteran and the brother of an Army veteran who served in the 1970s, I am enormously proud of the contribution our family has made to the American military.

My father, George “Red” Stahley, and my sister, Maryellen Stahley Brown, served our nation with distinction–my father as a PT boat radioman and my sister as member of the Army’s Nursing Corps. November 11th is a very special day in our family.

To all those who have stepped forward and served in our nation’s armed forces we owe a great debt of gratitude. They represent the very best of who we are as Americans.

Anyone who would denigrate, ridicule, or belittle our veterans–especially those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice–is not worthy of being considered an American citizen. There is a word for a person of that ilk–and that word is loser.

On this Veteran’s Day 2020, may God bless all those who have served in the American Armed Forces and all who currently serve our nation on active duty across the globe and here at home.

Red in dress blues - formal shot
Red Stahley, USN, 1944

My father’s first assignment in WWII was with PT Squadron (RON) 15 in the Mediterranean in 1944. On bases in North Africa and small islands off the coast of Italy, his job was to serve as a radio operator helping to maintain the communication network that linked the PT boats, PT tenders, and PT bases.

It was not uncommon for the bases to be strafed by Nazi fighter planes. Dodging bullets was simply a fact of life for the sailors on PT bases.

Red’s first assignment in the South Pacific was with Squadron (RON) 27 in 1945 where he was assigned as a radioman to PT 373. On a particularly horrendous jungle river patrol in Borneo, he remained steadfast at his radio while his boat was being raked by heavy machine gun fire as the 373 and the 359 completed their mission of taking out a Japanese communications tower. He and his fellow radioman on PT 359, Tom Saffles, maintained close contact so their skippers could successfully carry out the attack. Red and Tom formed the link holding the mission together.

One PT sailor on the 359 was killed in the attack and a PT crewman on the 373 was gravely wounded. The mission was dangerous, harrowing, and very, very costly.

If my father was courageous enough to put his life on the line in service to our country in WWII, then I can damn well sure devote my time and energy to preserving our democracy in times of crisis and danger–like the times we are living in now. So I will work without ceasing to encourage my fellow citizens to vote for candidates who believe in justice for all, racial equality, truth, decent healthcare for every American, and the importance of science in education and government policy.

And I’m not stopping after this election ends.

I know now–as I have never known before–that freedom isn’t free and that the work of democracy goes on each and every day. So I intend to stay with the work of building democracy as long as I can draw breath. It is one small way to honor the legacy of my father and all those who have worn the uniform of the American Armed forces since our nation began.

And anyone who would ever refer to the members of the American military as “losers” or “suckers” does not deserve to live in this nation, much less hold elective office. One who would dare make remarks like these is the scum of the earth.

Vote. Vote. Vote. VOTE. Please–for God’s sake–VOTE.

It is the least you can do for this nation we are privileged to call our home.

Red at Biserta, North Africa
Red at Bizerta PT Base 1944

Posted by: SJS | October 27, 2020

I liked Ike–a real winner all the way.

When I was a young child the word “President” automatically went with the word “Eisenhower.” To me, he was a benevolent, grandfatherly figure who always seemed to be busy doing important things. Images of him on our small black and white television were a regular feature of everyday life. Seeing him on television was always comforting, reassuring and somewhat boring in the way that adults can often be to very small children.

President Eisenhower was the person “in charge” and there was a quality of deep respect, almost reverence, for this elderly man who lived in the White House in Washington DC and took care of business. He was a very important person who had a lot of responsibilities and, even to a young boy, it was quite clear that he took those responsibilities very seriously.

Around the time I was seven years old, just as I was becoming very curious about my father’s Navy days on the PT boats, I discovered that President Eisenhower has been the supreme Allied Commander in WWII and was the American General in charge of the D-Day invasion in 1944. I will never forget the feeling of overwhelming shock that swept over me like a tidal wave when I realized what he had accomplished in WWII.

It was like learning that your gentle, kindly uncle had once been the heavyweight boxing champion. As I learned more and more about the details of the Normandy Invasion, I was awestruck every time I saw President Eisenhower on TV. When I discovered that PT boats had played a supporting role in the invasion–doing minesweeping work and helping to rescue Allied troops whose landing craft had been hit–my admiration for “Ike” soared even higher. The PT sailors where helping General Eisenhower implement his great plan.

President Eisenhower made me feel safe and protected. Even during the 1950s when the country was gripped with fear about the atomic bomb and we were learning how to hide under our desks in grade school, I believed that President Eisenhower knew how to keep us safe and would be a deterrent against the threats of the Russians and their bombs.

I am sad for our young children today whose earliest image of a president will be that of a raging fool who mocks disabled people, denigrates women, inflames the impact of a deadly pandemic outbreak, and lends support to hate groups in America and murderous despots around the globe. Children don’t miss much–and you can trust me on that.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to restore dignity, decency, and genuine leadership to the office of the presidency. It has been reassuring to see long lines of my fellow Americans waiting to vote all around the country. And I feel certain that the vast majority of those waiting patiently to vote want to evict the shameless loser from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as much as I do.

We can do this. And we will.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt of the First US Volunteer Calvary in the Spanish American War

My grandmother Mary Agnes Stahley, idolized President Theodore Roosevelt (aka TR). As I child, I loved to hear Nana Stahley tell the stories of “Teddy” Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and their exploits in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The famous attack of the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill had become the stuff of legend by the time of Nana’s birth in 1905.

After his service leading the First Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was elected the Governor of New York. In 1900, he joined the Republican presidential ticket as William McKinley’s Vice Presidential candidate. Following McKinley’s death from an assassin’s bullet in 1901, TR became president at the age of 42. His political career was marked by vigorous anti-corruption work, forward looking environmental policies, and the receipt of the Nobel Prize for peace for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1906.

And that’s just for starters when it comes to TR’s accomplishments.

As a young adolescent, doing her best to survive during the flu pandemic of 1918 and take care of her five younger siblings after the death of their mother, the example of Teddy Roosevelt inspired my grandmother and gave her a leader to emulate–and did she ever. Nana not only survived the pandemic, she made sure that all of her siblings survived as well. All of them–Bill, Peg, George (Reds), Catherine (Cass) and Joe went on to live productive, prosperous lives.

To me, Nana’s life was an embodiment of the spirit that Teddy Roosevelt brought into American life in the earliest days of the twentieth century. That spirit was defined by it’s hard-charging, keep-moving-forward, don’t-look-back ethos that stiffened the spines of so many Americans who were overwhelmed with twin realities of the First World War and the flu pandemic of 1918.

I know that Nana passed on a generous share of that “TR Moxie” to her son, George Junior, who carried it with him when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1943 and opted for volunteer-only service on the PT boats. The sailors of the Mosquito Fleet were the naval equivalent of TR’s Rough Riders — brash, energetic, edgy, and ready to steer their small boats into the heart of the hottest fights with little regard for the outcome.

I am calling on Nana’s guidance from above to help our nation rise up like Teddy Roosevelt and his soldiers in this election season. We need to serve up one great big ass-kicking to the vulgar hyena in the White House and all his spineless GOP toadies in the Congress and Statehouses across the land.

We can do it.

And we will do it, just like Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill to victory in 1898.

Mary A Stahley and her son, George in 1925
Harry Truman’s Army ID card

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as president. Truman had been vice president for all of 82 days. The war in Europe was almost over but the Pacific theater was another story altogether.

Losing FDR was a massive blow to the sailors and marines who were fighting an enemy, the forces of Imperial Japan, who was growing more desperate and dangerous by the day. The fighting was fierce, brutal, and often at close quarters. Casualties were heavy and growing heavier by the hour.

Harry Truman was an artilleryman in World War I. He enlisted at age 33 in 1917 and by August of 1918, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded an American field artillery unit that saw action in France.

Truman’s unit had a reputation for brawling, heavy drinking, and insubordination when he assumed command. He moved quickly to impose discipline and lay down the law. By the end of the war, Truman had earned the undying loyalty, respect, and admiration of his soldiers–loyalty that would last a lifetime and bolster his political career in Missouri.

A few years before his death in 1999, Red and I were talking about American presidents and the discussion turned to presidents who had served in the military. I was not familiar with Truman’s service in the First World War, and my father was only too happy to fill me in.

“It was tough to lose FDR when we did, ” he said. “But Truman stepped right up to the plate. I can’t imagine any president who had to take on a challenge that big. We learned very quickly that he was a real leader who had no problem making decisions.” I asked him what he thought of Truman as a man.

” Harry was one tough SOB,” my father said. “He didn’t take any shit from anybody.”

That was high praise from Red Stahley. Actually, it was the highest praise possible.

I can only remember one other person to whom my father paid that compliment — Chuck Bednarik, the legendary center and linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Like Red, Bednarik was a WWII veteran who served in the Army Air Force as a waist gunner on a B-24 Bomber. As an Eagle, Bednarik played both ways (offense and defense) and led Philadelphia to the 1960 NFL championship over the Green Bay Packers. That was one game Red loved to talk about. And it was that “tough SOB Bednarik” who delivered the victory for Philadelphia.

In speaking about the presidency, Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.” And he lived by that credo. Contrast that with the buck-passing, blame shifting, spineless hyena who currently holds the highest office in the land — a pathetic degenerate who would not be worthy to shine the shoes of a man like Harry S. Truman.

President Harry Truman meets with Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, and Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, at the Potsdam Conference in 1945
Union General Ulysses S. Grant

If you’re looking for a straight up contrast between a winner and a total loser, look no further than President Ulysses S. Grant and the current occupant of the White House.

Grant knew how to win–and he did. Case closed.

Grant was smarter than Confederate General Robert E. Lee, more daring than Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and more tenacious than Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnson. Combine all the attributes of those three rebel commanders and they amount to less than half of what Ulysses S. Grant brought to the field in every battle he fought.

Earlier this year, the History Channel did an excellent six hour miniseries on the life and career of Ulysses S. Grant. It documents the remarkable story of a true American hero who is only now beginning to receive the esteem, respect, and gratitude he so richly deserves.

Check it out the two-minute trailer for this superb miniseries–


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