Posted by: SJS | May 22, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

USN graveyard unknown location

The final resting place of unknown US sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice somewhere in the South Pacific.  This photo is from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc. and is included here with gratitude and deep respect.

This Memorial Day, as we honor the sacrifice of all the men and women who have worn the military uniform of our country and given their lives for us, let’s also keep in mind the extraordinary service of healthcare professionals and essential workers who are serving us now on the front lines of the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 menace.  The courageous work of the nurses, doctors, store clerks, EMT crews, postal workers, military personnel, and public safety officials are shining examples of the highest qualities of public service and heroism.

Our gratitude to those who serve so generously is profound and beyond the capacity of words to express.  May God bless them all.

Posted by: SJS | May 12, 2020

PT base at Teguchi Harbor, Okinawa

1945 PT base in Okinawa

While VE Day (Victory in Europe) was celebrated on May 8, 1945, heavy fighting in the Pacific continued against a fierce and entrenched adversary.  In anticipation of the invasion of the Japanese mainland, a PT base was established at Teguchi Harbor on Okinawa.  PTs from Squadrons (RONs) 31, 32, and 37 were assigned to Okinawa in preparation for the coming battles.

The Marines and the Navy knew that their war was a long way from over as spring turned to summer in 1945.  The forces of Imperial Japan were dug in and determined to fight on as the Allies moved ever closer to the Japanese homeland.  As the prospects of the ultimate Allied victory grew ever more certain, the resistance of the Japanese fighting forces became more intense–and suicidal.

The PT sailors in Ron 27 knew clearly what they were up against.  After Red Stahley, Tom Saffles, and their crewmates on PT 373 and PT 359 went through a ferocious engagement on Balabalangan Island on a remote Borneo jungle river, it was clear that the Japanese forces would surrender nothing without a fight to the death.  And the closer that fighting got to mainland Japan, the worse it would get.

As the sailors on PT 373 and PT 359 returned to the USS Mobjack, the PT Tender that was their temporary base, they were carrying one dead crewmate, one severely wounded crewmate, and the exhaustion of a night filled with heavy machine gun fire coming from an enemy they could not even see in the darkness and smoke.

Over the night of July 9-10, 1945, my father and his fellow sailors got a bitter taste of the experience that the Marines were encountering on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the other hotspots of the island hopping campaign.  From the vantage point of mid-July, 1945, the weeks and months ahead of the PT crews looked bleak and filled with one blood-drenched battle after another.  Three PT squadrons were already assigned to the new base in Okinawa and it is likely that the sailors of Ron 27 expected a similar posting.

Everything would change dramatically in the early part of August when President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on mainland Japan.  The unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan quickly followed the second bombing on August 9, 1945.

The unleashing of atomic weapons was, and will remain, among the most controversial decisions in American history.  There are compelling arguments to be made for and against.  The Atomic Age was ushered in with two massive blasts that changed the course of human history.

One thing, however, is beyond dispute.  Had the Allied forces been handed the duty of invading mainland Japan, the cost in American lives would have been very, very high.  And part of that toll would have been paid by the PT sailors in the South Pacific.  Like the Marines, they were resigned to their fate and accepted the grim path that lay before them.  Like the Marines, the PT sailors were realists about war and its costs.

And if it had become necessary to invade mainland Japan in the brutal summer of 1945,  I can only wonder if I would even be here typing these words.  It most certainly gives one pause…

Photo courtesy of PT Boats, Inc.

 

 

 

 

PT 359 and 373 Action Page_3_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6982]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_3_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6982]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_4_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6983]evening patrol (2)Heading out for night patrol

As promised, this is the second of two After Action Reports (AARs) for the PT engagement on the night of July 9-10, 1945 at Balabalangan Island, part of the Borneo Archipelago in Indonesia.  This report was submitted by the Skipper of PT 373, Lt. Alexander W. Allison.  These recently declassified reports were located by a good friend, Dave Waite, who found them as part of his research on his father’s WWII USN service.

I will be eternally grateful to Dave for forwarding these precious documents to me.  They detail the events of the most crucial twenty four hours of my father’s service during the war–a night that left one PT sailor dead, another wounded, a damaged cockpit (as seen in the photo with my father standing next to the bullet hole near the 373 marking), and enough combat turbulence to inhabit the soul of a young man for the rest of his life.

In the bureaucratic prose typical of these reports. Lt. Allison describes the role his boat played in the assault on the Japanese radar tower on the island over the course of that fateful night.  The crew of PT 373 used flares to illuminate the target.  The light gave the gunners on the starboard side of the 373 a clear target.  The machine gun fire from PT 373 and PT 359 was heavy and sustained.  The return fire from the Japanese installation appears to have been heavier than expected, resulting in the death of a gunner on the 359 and the serious wounding of a gunner on the 373.

In both reports, the skippers make clear that there was heavy machine gun fire going both ways over the course of the encounter.  It was a battle between an entrenched Japanese unit and two heavily armed American boats.  Neither adversary seemed willing to stand down.  When the PT boats withdrew, it was only after the skippers determined that sufficient damage had been done to take out the communications capacity of the tower.

Near the conclusion of the report, Lt. Allison states that “all personnel performed creditably, the 40 mm crew with distinction.” With typical military understatement, the skipper pays tribute to the work of his crew over the course of a night filled chaos, damage, death, and immense courage.  All in a day’s (or night’s) work for the PT crews on the 373 and the 359.

In another era, Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British Royal Navy sent a message to his fleet of warships as they entered into battle with the Napoleonic Fleet off the Spanish coast in 1805.  “England expects that every man will do his duty,” the semaphore flags on Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory, spelled out as the British prepared to engage the combined fleet of French and Spanish warships.  And at the Battle of Trafalgar, the British Royal Navy–heavily outnumbered and outgunned– did just that.  It was one of the most stunning naval victories in recorded military history.  And it cost the life of Admiral Nelson who was killed by a bullet fired by a French marine.

Doing one’s duty–and doing it well–was a hallmark of the PT crews.  These AARs spell out in precise detail what these young men did on that memorable night in July of 1945.  Every member of both crews executed their duty with boldness and bravery.

In the photo, courtesy of PT Boats, Inc., an unidentified PT boat heads out in the early evening on a mission in the South Pacific.  That evening sky like the one in the photo was one that my father, and all PT sailors, must have known very well.

Posted by: SJS | April 21, 2020

After Action Report (1): July 9-10 PT 359

PT 359 and 373 Action Page_1_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6980]PT 359 and 373 Action Page_2_World_War_II_War_Diaries_19411945[6981]

Tom & Red 1945

Tom Saffles and Red Stahley 1945

I have recently come into possession of two crucial After Action Reports from the US Navy which were declassified at the end of 2012.   The reports detail an engagement between two PT boats, the 359 and the 373, on the overnight of July 9-10, 1945.  Reading these documents, written by the two PT Skippers– Lt. Charles S. Welsh, USNR (359) and Lt. Alexander W. Allison, USNR, (373), has been an electrifying experience.

A good friend, Dave Waite, discovered these stunning documents while doing research on his father’s WWII Navy career and was kind enough to send them to me.  Dave has my eternal gratitude for passing along these remarkable documents–bursting with action, pathos, nautical information, precise accounts of firepower expended and a few phrases that verge on the poetic.

The reports flesh out the details of a story that I first heard as a child from my father in 1956 and listened to again, and again, and again at my urgent request.  I craved to hear this story more than any fairy tale or nursery rhyme as a child.  It was the story of the attack on the Japanese communications station on a dark night up a dense jungle river.  I knew that a PT sailor on another boat had been killed.  I knew that machine gun fire had torn through the cockpit on my father’s boat.  I knew that the mission had achieved its objective.

I learned later–much later–that the sailor who was killed on PT 359, George D. Emmons–had just relieved my father’s best friend, Tom Saffles in the bow turret gun when Emmons took a fatal shot from a machine gun on the Japanese tower.  Tom was racked by survivor’s guilt over the loss, a heavy burden that he carried for the remainder of his life.  He shared the story for the first time with his wife, Irene, and my sister, Maryellen, and me when we visited him in Springville, Alabama in 2011.  I am still haunted by the wracking sobs that overwhelmed Tom as he verbalized the story for the first time.  His only solace was the exchange of Morse Code messages he had with his best friend and fellow PT radioman–Red Stahley–on PT 373 over the course of those terrifying hours on that dark river with machine gun fire ripping the water and shredding the air all around them.

The new details of the raid on Balabalagan Island up a dense jungle river in the Borneo archipelago do more than flesh out the story.  The tense narratives, written by the two skippers, convey the bureaucratic cost of the mission in terms of human life, ammunition used, damage taken, and enemy equipment destroyed.  Reading between the lines, however, the toll taken on officers and crew by the chaos, enemy fire, confusion, and loss of a crewmate becomes powerfully clear.

Lt. Walsh concludes his report with this brief paragraph,

“The crew responded remarkably well under fire and showed coolness and presence of mind in the face of a serious personnel casualty.”

With an economy of language, clarity, and a military directness akin to the legendary  dispatches of Union General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, the Skipper of PT 359 lets his superiors know that his crew did their job with discipline, competence and an uncommon level of courage.  And now, the whole world can know it, too.

There can be no higher praise.

Next:  After Action Report (2): July 9-10 PT 373

Posted by: SJS | April 14, 2020

Supportive services–absolutely essential

lifting up a PT for repairs 07-15-2019_17-51-36-954 (2)Key to the success of the PT boats as a fighting force in WWII was the great support the PTs received from the PT Tenders and the PT Base Crews.  These supportive services kept the crews supplied, the boats in good repair, and–when necessary–additional fire power to fight off enemy attacks, especially from hostile aircraft.  The USN sailors who were assigned to the tenders and the bases shared the same fighting spirit as their fellow sailors who were assigned to the PT crews.

I lost track of the number of time my father praised the work of the tender and base crews.  “We relied on those guys to keep us going,” Red said, “we would have been in big trouble without them.”

Our nation is now engaged in an all-out war against a fierce, invisible enemy–the COVID-19 virus.  On the front lines of this war, fighting with all their might to protect us are the nurses, doctors, health technicians, hospital staff, and EMT crews.  Their heroism and selfless service are on full display every day.  They are putting their lives on the line, using their considerable skills to serve the sickest among us.  Along with the healthcare professionals, we rely on the hard work and bravery of  law enforcement professionals, grocery store workers, mail carriers, pharmacy staff, waste removal workers, and so many others who do the day-to-day necessary work to keep our society functioning.

To paraphrase Red Stahley, we rely on these fine people to keep us going and we would be in big  trouble without them.

God bless them all for their courage, their selfless service, and their tireless work to heal, to protect, and to supply us with life’s necessities.  They truly represent the best of who we are as Americans.  We owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

In the photo, a PT boat is hoisted onto a PT tender for repairs.

Posted by: SJS | April 10, 2020

Mary A. Stahley- April 10, 1905

Nana Pop George Young 1946

On this day in the year 1905 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, my grandmother, Mary A. Stahley was born.  It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of her influence on my life.  Her expansive personality, her indomitable will, and her passion for life were as much a part of my childhood as the air I breathed and the familiar sights of our neighborhood in the Olney section of Philadelphia which defined the landscape that I called home.

In 1918 at the age of 13, Mary lost her mother as the brutal and unforgiving influenza epidemic ravaged Philadelphia leaving unimaginable loss, terror, and sorrow in its wake.  With five younger siblings to care for and a father who was working day and night as a Philadelphia fireman, Mary’s life was forever shaped by that pivotal chapter in the history of my hometown.

As we now endure the overwhelming and frightening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which ravages our nation and shreds every aspect of our daily routines, my admiration and respect for my grandmother–Nana Stahley–has crossed over into awe.  Her life has redefined the word “survivor” in my vocabulary.  The true impact of a pandemic on a society had escaped the farthest boundaries of my imagination.

That is no longer the case.

With a mother’s love and protective instincts, Mary ensured that her five siblings–William (Bill), Margaret (Peg), George (Reds), Catherine (Cass), and Joseph (Joe) survived the epidemic and went on to live productive and highly successful lives.  Mary wanted a large family of her own (“four or five children–at least” she often told me) but had just  one son–my father, George.  He was the beneficiary of enough love, affection, and protectiveness that could easily have overwhelmed a family with a dozen children.

The love which Mary lavished on her only child followed him from Philadelphia to some of the places where the heaviest fighting of World War II was occurring–the deserts of North Africa, the bloody waters of the Mediterranean, and the steaming jungles of Borneo in the South Pacific.

And that fierce mother’s love brought him safely home to Philadelphia after the war’s end.

I’ve long believed that nothing the forces of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan could hurl at Red Stahley could penetrate the protective shield of his mother’s love which was with him every moment of every day that he served his country on the PT boats during those perilous years of World War II.  Nana’s love was like a heat shield that enfolded whoever was fortunate enough to find themselves within it.  And that was some amazing shield.

How fitting that Nana’s birthday fell so close to Easter on the calendar.  Her life bore a powerful and unfailing witness to the central mystery of our faith which finds its epitome on Easter–love is stronger than death.  It is the most powerful energy force in the universe.

Those of us who are her descendants know that truth in the marrow of our bones.  Our gratitude is wider and deeper than all the seas that cover the earth.

Pictured above are my grandparents, Mary and George Stahley with their nephew, George J. Young in 1946.  My thanks to my cousin, George, for sharing this treasured photograph with me.  George and his family live in Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fathers

father’s

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | January 30, 2020

A 2020 shout out to PT Boats, Inc.

home_page_bg21.jpg

As I begin another year of research and blogging on the WWII career of my father, George “Red” Stahley, I want to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to PT Boats, Inc. of Germantown, Tennessee.  Under the outstanding leadership of Alyce Guthrie, the legacy of the USN’s “Mosquito Fleet” has been beautifully preserved and powerfully promoted.

Check out the website or stop by for a visit if you are ever in the vicinity of Germantown, Tennessee (near Memphis) and see how much more there is to learn about the history of the PT boats, bases, and tenders of the United States Navy.

Dorie Miller with medalDorie Miller

On Monday, January 20, 2020 the US Navy commissioned a CVN-81 aircraft carrier named for Doris “Dorie” Miller– an enlisted sailor who emerged as one of the Navy heroes during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  As the air forces of Imperial Japan unleashed their bombs on the ships anchored at the base, Dorie Miller was serving as a mess attendant on board the USS West Virginia.  As his ship took heavy fire, Miller quickly got to the deck and began assisting the wounded.  He then manned a deck weapon–a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft gun and opened fire on the Japanese planes attacking his ship.  Although he had never been trained on this gun, Dorie operated it well enough to take out one of the attacking planes, possibly more.  He stayed with the gun until it ran out of ammo and the order was given to abandon ship.

For his heroism, Dorie Miller was awarded the Navy Cross.  Only the Medal of Honor would be a higher honor for a member of the US Navy.  In 1943, Miller was serving on the escort carrier, USS Liscome Bay, when it was torpedoed by the Japanese Navy and sunk.  Dorie Miller was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Like my father, Dorie Miller was an enlisted sailor who was proud to wear the uniform of the United States Navy.  Despite his position as a mess attendant, limited to duties like cooking, swabbing decks, and shining the shoes of officers, Dorie Miller’s Navy career embodied the highest ideals of American military service.  Whether it was providing meals for his fellow sailors, assisting wounded comrades while under fire, or operating a deck gun to fend off attacking enemy aircraft,  Miller was prepared to serve every day, even until the last day when his ship was going down in the Pacific.

At this difficult and dangerous time in our nation’s history, the example and legacy of Doris “Dorie” Miller is like a refreshing drink of cool water on a hot, steamy day.  This enlisted sailor from Texas who became a hero on December 7, 1941 and gave his life for our country in 1943 represents the very best of who we are as Americans.

Thank you, Dorie.  I hope we can live up to your example.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 20, 2019

George “Red” Stahley – December 20, 1924

It was on this day in 1924 that my father, George J. Stahley, was born in Philadelphia, PA.  He was the only child of George F. and Mary Young Stahley.  When he passed away in November of 1999 he had not yet reached the age of 75.

At the time of his death, I had not yet started my intensive research on his Navy career but I did have my childhood memories of the stories he shared with me about his days on the PTs.  It was those stories that motivated me to dig deeper and learn more about his military career in WWII.  When I began my work, I didn’t even know that his Navy nickname was “Red.”

And there was so much more.

Remembering my father, “Red” Stahley, on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

In the photo, my father poses with two of his coworkers at Edgecomb Steel in Philadelphia where he worked as a dispatcher in 1948.

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