Posted by: SJS | June 1, 2018

Royalty aboard the PTs – prepping for D-Day

A few days before D-Day, the British King, George VI, was part of an inspection party that viewed the buildup for the invasion in the harbors of Portland, Plymouth, and Weymouth in England.  In this photo from the archives of PT Boats, Inc., the king is pictured third from the left with British Admirals Strubel, Kirk and  Ramsey standing closest to him.  In the foreground is USN Ensign Sharkey of PT 504 which was part of Squadron (Ron) 34.

As we approach the 74th anniversary of D-Day, it is important to remember the vital roles played by the PTs — both in advance of the invasion and in the middle of the action on June 6, 1944.  Prior to the invasion, the PT boats did mine sweeping work to clear the way for the landing craft.  In the midst of the invasion, PTs were busy rescuing troops that were adrift after their landing craft had been sunk by the German shore batteries.  With their speed and agility, the PTs were able to move rapidly to where they were needed and get the job done almost always before enemy gunners could draw a bead on them.

King George VI was the English Monarch who was the subject of the recent movie The King’s Speech.  After his brother unexpectedly abdicated the throne, George VI was thrust onto the world stage at a pivotal moment in world history.  His courage in overcoming his speech impediment and rallying his besieged nation as the Nazi war machine shifted into high gear were an inspiration to his country and the world.  In this photo, the king’s dignity, resolute nature, and seriousness of purpose shine through as the Allies moved ever closer to that historic day in World War II.

If you haven’t had the chance to see The King’s Speech, I highly recommend it.  It’s worth seeing–at least two or three times!

Posted by: SJS | May 25, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Burial at sea.

A photo that still haunts me every time I see it.

In its grim simplicity and searing honesty, the picture embodies the essence of the holiday we will soon celebrate–Memorial Day.  Officers and enlisted sailors of the USS Intrepid who lost their lives during the battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines are committed to the sea.  The faces and gestures of the sailors convey a solemn dignity and deep reverence for the remains of their shipmates who have made the supreme sacrifice.  If a picture is worth a thousand words then this one is worth at least ten million.

The photograph is the work of Lt. Barrett Gallagher who worked as part of the superb Navy photojournalism team led by Lt. Commander Edward Steichen.  Their body of work captured the spirit of the Navy and Marines who gave their all to win the war against the forces of Imperial Japan in WWII.

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Memorial Day.  May we never forget the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | May 19, 2018

Lookout on the bow

In this undated photo from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc., an unidentified crewman sits on the bow of a fast moving PT checking out the way forward and giving guidance to his skipper at the wheel.  Few images better capture the intrepid spirit of the Mosquito Fleet than this one.  The plain fact of PT service was that everybody on board did whatever needed to be done–meeting the immediate need at hand.  Moments before this photo was snapped, this sailor could have been manning the deck gun, working the boat’s radio,  preparing a meal, or tending to the Packard engines that powered the boat.

Because the PTs operated so frequently in shallow waters, it is not surprising that lookouts were occasionally needed to keep a close eye on the treacherous path ahead.  Those waters could be bristling with mines, rocks, or sand bars lurking just under the surface.  In the last months of the war in the Pacific during the spring and summer of 1945 the PTs were operating more frequently as heavily armed gunboats than as torpedo-laden ship hunters.

Red Stahley’s final months in the war were by far the most harrowing and dangerous of his service in the USN.  Being sent on patrols up jungle rivers and fighting the ever more desperate forces of the Imperial Japanese Army, the PT sailors relied ever more heavily on the attributes that had always served them so well–speed, stealth, and teamwork.  As the war drew to a close in the Pacific, they knew that the dangers they faced would never end until Imperial Japan finally surrendered.

Seeing photos like this one, it is so easy to picture my father sitting astride the bow and pointing the way forward.  Like all the other PT sailors, Red was always ready to do whatever needed to be done–all in a day’s work for the sailors of the Navy’s legendary Mosquito Fleet.

 

 

Mary Young Stahley 1926Mary Young Stahley, Red’s mother and my grandmother (“Nana”) was about as Irish as they came in the early part of the 20th century in Philadelphia.  Her parents were both immigrants from Ireland and Mary was the eldest of six children.  Her father was a fireman and her mother was a full time homemaker with her hands full.

In 1918, when Mary was just 13, her mother died when she fell victim to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which moved rapidly through the population and took so many lives in short order.  Mary was forced to leave school in the eighth grade and assume the role of surrogate mother to her five younger siblings.  She never made it to high school but raised her siblings, all of whom lived successful and very good lives.

From that young age, Mary’s life was governed by a strong streak of Irish stoicism with an overpowering awareness of the fragility and briefness of human life.  The optimism and unbounded ambition that characterized the Irish experience of the O’Neill family was nowhere present in the earliest years of George “Red” Stahley.  Life was about a fierce protectiveness and the need to simply survive.

I well remember Nana telling me countless times when I was a child that every day of my father’s Navy service overseas in WWII was pure torture.  Her only child was far away on the front lines in Europe and the South Pacific.  Nana lived in constant dread of receiving that telegram from the War Department or the arrival of the black car at the front door bringing the military officer and the parish priest to deliver the worst news possible.

Something tells me that Red’s survival on the PTs owes more to his mother’s influence than I previously knew.  In his eyes, no German fighter pilot or sailor in the Imperial Japanese Navy was more formidable than Mary Young Stahley.  So surviving and making it home was simply a task that had to be accomplished.

Despite her bright smile and expansive personality, Nana Stahley always carried within her a grim Irish fatalism that knew only too well that human life can be brutal, unforgiving, and cruel.  As I reflect back on her life and all the lives she touched, I can see clearly how well that Irish stoicism served her, my grandfather (Pop). my father and all of us who had the good fortune to be related to her.  Everything for Mary Young Stahley was about survival and taking care of those closest to you.  And her success in that realm was a tribute to her tenacious perseverance, hard work and grit.

We lost her in 1994 at the age of 89.  She lived a remarkable life and most certainly took excellent care of all those she loved.  Her indominatabile influence remains strong and indelible.

The undated photo shows Mary Young Stahley sometime during the 1920s in Philadelphia.  In her smile, I see reflections of my father, several great aunts, cousins and each of my four sisters.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: SJS | April 19, 2018

The O’Neill Bros

This striking photo of my mother, Rita Marie’s, five brothers takes me all the way back to my earliest impressions of them as a young child.  I was in awe of them and forged relationships with them that have given me memories that will last a lifetime.

Growing up, it was through the lens of the O’Neill family that I came to have some understanding of another Irish Catholic family–the Kennedys–which would come to have such a profound impact on the history of our country and the world.  Through the family of my mother, I was given insights into the Kennedys, especially John F. Kennedy, whose WWII experiences on the PT boats of the South Pacific have brought me to a deeper understanding of my father, George “Red” Stahley who did similar service as a young man.  Somehow, it all fits together in ways that go deeper than I could ever say.

Pictured left to right are Rob, Ed, Tim, Al, and Bud.  I believe the photograph is from Tim’s wedding day.  Each of these uncles, of whom I was extremely proud, played major roles in my earliest years.  Although I did not remain as close to some of them as others as the years passed (for reasons I do not fully comprehend), their imprint on my childhood was deep and enduring.

Ed, the Army veteran who lost half a leg as part of the Normandy invasion in 1944, was my godfather.  Among my most cherished early memories are of Uncle Ed getting down on the living room floor to play with his nieces and nephews at family gatherings.  Since Ed was the last of the brothers to marry and start a family, he was free to shower boatloads of attention on the emerging O’Neill generation–and we were only too happy to soak up as much of that gentle Eddie energy as we could get.  Known affectionately by his nickname “Oats” to the grown ups, he was always Uncle Eddie to us kids.  His broad smile and easy laughter are deeply and gratefully at home in my memory.

Tim, third in line after Peggy and Bud was the parent of my cousins with whom I spent many happy summer days–Timmy, Kevin, and Brian.  Somehow the four of us could play baseball games consisting of four players that went on for many innings and involved several close plays at first  base.  Many of those plays were hotly disputed if memory serves.  I remember Uncle Tim for his sharp wit and warm welcome every time we had the opportunity to visit.

Because of Al, I learned the meaning of words like “urbane” and “sophisticated” much sooner than most kids in the second grade.  And even as a child, I could tell that Uncle Al  had a sense of humor that was somehow more subtle but more expansive that other adults.  I remember at one family gathering, a First Communion party after several of us had just taken that momentous step that loomed large for all Catholic children, I found myself between Uncle Al and Aunt Peggy (Sister Margarella, OSF) who were having an intense discussion about the new pope–the jovial and rotund Angelo Roncalli who had become Pope John XXIII–the pope who would convene Vatican II and change the course of the Catholic Church.  Along with my cousin Frankie Morris, I was wearing my sparkling white first communion suit on that long ago day.

As Aunt Peggy went on at great length about the virtues of the new pope,  I watched Al’s smile grow wider and saw a mischievous look in his eye. “Oh, Peg, he’ll do alright but you know he’s not perfect,” Al said.  For the briefest of moments,  he held his big sister in a stunned silence.  “After all, he’s not Irish–right Stephen?” Al said, looking at me with a wink.  I’m quite sure it was the first “grown up” joke I ever got.  I started to laugh so hard I almost spilled my glass of orange soda all over my white suit–almost.  I’ll always be grateful to my Uncle Al for letting me in on the joke.  That gift of Irish humor–irreverent, earthy, and loaded with paradox–began to take root in me that day.

Bud, the oldest of the boys, was the father of my cousins Terry and Patrice who grew up with my sister Maryellen and I in the same Philly neighborhood with the Morris family–cousins Michael, Frankie, and Robbie before all the other siblings and cousins showed up in our families–Marguerite, Joan, Teresa Stahley, Jay, Helene, Marita O’Neill, Eddie, Danny, Bernadette, and Tommy Morris.  It felt like a branch of the extended O’Neill clan owned that portion of Philadelphia real estate between Front and B Streets.

I will always remember Bud’s keen interest in poetry, philosophy, and theology.  He loved nothing more than an intense discussion (or better, debate) about a line from a W.B. Yeats poem or a concept in the work of St. Augustine.  Uncle Bud was more tuned in to the controversies generated by the doctrine of Original Sin than most of my seminary theology professors.  Bud was a businessman all his life but I don’t think that profession engaged him nearly as much as the challenges he found through his wide ranging intellectual interests.  Like his brothers, Bud’s sharp wit and Irish penchant for stories were always captivating and offbeat at the same time–an engaging combination for sure.

Rob, whose contagious laughter and bottomless generosity formed my first impressions of him as a child and the memories of my final visit with him a few days before his death, was the O’Neill sibling who did more than any other to stay in touch, offer assistance, and openly express his loving affection for everyone in the large, complicated, and deeply conflicted O’Neill family.  And there were no exceptions.

Uncle Rob’s deepest joy and greatest happiness came when he was in the company of family–and the more the merrier.  And nothing could change that.  One of the core teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that love is stronger than death.  And as his nephew, I had the great good fortune of learning this from my Uncle Rob long before the Sisters of Saint Joseph taught me the lessons of the Baltimore Catechism or my theology professors at Catholic University guided me through the nuances of the New Testament and the soaring beauty of the prophets and psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures.  His tender care for his three sisters Peggy, Rita, and Helen in their declining years was a profound lesson in familial love, unfailing loyalty, and kindness that knew no bounds.

Like his twin, Al, Rob served in the immediate post war armed forces–Al in the Army and Rob in the Navy.  They both contributed to helping to secure the Allied victory that had been purchased at such a high price by veterans like their older brother Ed.  As in the service of his country, Rob’s service to his family was deep, generous, and cheerful.  While each of the eight O’Neill siblings were gifted with an Irish sense of humor, none could match the robust and deeply joyful humor that Rob took everywhere he went.   His smile in the photo above–broad, genuine, and warm–only grew larger as the years passed.  Every life that Rob touched got better and the example he left us only grows more beautiful over time.

My deepest thanks to my cousin and dear friend, Paul O’Neill (Rob’s son) who shared this remarkable photo with me.  How privileged I am to share it with you.

 

Posted by: SJS | April 13, 2018

Irish. Catholic. Ambitious. Attitude? You bet.

Growing up in the Philadelphia of the 1950s and 60s as part of a large Irish Catholic family gave me a rather good perspective on the Kennedy experience which so captivated the nation’s attention in that era.

The O’Neill Family was bursting with youthful energy, good looks, entrepreneurial ideas, lots and lots of kids, and intra-family rivalries that would eventually pit relatives against each other and lead to hostile feelings that persist even to the present day.  The Kennedy clan that produced siblings like Joe junior, JFK, Eunice Shriver, Rosemary, RFK, and Teddy bore remarkable similarities to the family of Barney and Nellie Sheehan O’Neill of Philadelphia during those turbulent years of the mid-twentieth century.

What brothers Joe and Jack Kennedy carried with them as they entered the armed forces of the United States at the outset of World War II was characteristic of the many Irish Catholic young men who answered the call to service as hostilities broke out across the globe.  They were fiercely competitive, eager to take on challenging assignments, determined to prove that Catholics were as patriotic as anybody else in the country, and a certain spirit of “go-ahead-and-knock-this-chip-off-my-shoulder-and-see what-happens”  that made them sometimes only too willing to get into a fight.

When George “Red” Stahley married into the O’Neill family, he surely carried a lot of that Irish attitude which he inherited from his mother, Mary Young Stahley, who was a first generation American, the daughter of two Irish immigrants.  Red’s father, George F. Stahley, was my only non-Irish grandparent–a member of the Church of the Brethren who hailed from from Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  For all the Irish blood in my veins, it was Pop Stahley whose example, kindness, and deep faith most influenced my childhood spiritual development and my decision to enter the seminary to study for the Catholic priesthood. In my years as a parish priest, it was Pop Stahley who served as my model of service.

Looking back over my earliest years, I’ve become convinced that Red’s PT service stood him in good stead as he became integrated into the tribal rituals of the O’Neill clan where holiday meals often became sparring matches filled with glib remarks, veiled insults, and alcohol-fueled invitations to compare business triumphs.  While I happily joined my multitude of cousins running in and out of our O’Neill grandparents’ basement on Third Street, getting our holiday clothes dirty and our new shoes scuffed, the adult men were busy engaging in the blood sport known as “after-dinner” discussions in the smoke filled living room where the topics ranged from economics to politics to religion.  Jungle warfare training came in handy as Red made his way through the O’Neill holiday events.  Of course, he was always ready for a robust verbal jousting match as any O’Neill or Kennedy or anybody else for that matter.  Red was never much of a drinker which gave him an immediate advantage–both in terms of coherence and knowing when to bail out.

As an only child who married into a family of eight siblings with a dominant patriarch who was second in power only to an even more powerful matriarch, Red had to earn a new set of campaign bars that were not easily bestowed.  My mother once told me that Nana O’Neill had benign feelings for her choice of Red as a husband.  “He’s a fine lump of a man,” Nana O’Neill answered when asked her opinion of Rita’s choice. High praise indeed for the Navy vet who dodged Nazi strafing runs and Japanese sniper bullets.   Whether you entered the Kennedy or the O’Neill clan as an in-law (or “out-laws” as they called themselves in Philly), you were required to prove your mettle.  And the proving never ended; neither did the intrigue or the surprise attacks that were a common feature of every family gathering.

In the left photo above, Red Stahley stands at the far left, next to fellow “out-law” Frank Morris who served in the Army in the China-India-Burma theater as part of the MP (Military Police) security detail for “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, one of the leading strategists of the American forces.  Next to Frank stands Eddie O’Neill who served as part of the Normandy invasion force and lost half a leg to a German sniper in June of 1944.  Eddie was a recipient of the Purple Heart.  Red, Frank, and Eddie shared a special bond as the three WWII vets in the family who saw action overseas.  Their wartime service mattered not a whit in the pecking order of the O’Neill ranking system- most especially if your surname was not O’Neill.  Military distinction registered not at all in a family that was fully immersed in the business of business.  Everything was the business.  And when the business dissolved in a tsunami of acrimony, jealousy, and blame there was precious little remaining to hold the family together.   To paraphrase the poet W.B Yeats, “the center could not hold.”

In the center of the photo sits Peggy O’Neill, the eldest sibling, who became Sister Margarella, OSF who had a distinguished religious and academic career with the Sisters of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, PA. In addition to establishing the nursing program at Villanova University (go Wildcats!), Aunt Peggy (as we lovingly knew her) served as president of Neumann College, a liberal arts school established by the Franciscans in Southeastern Pennsylvania near Delaware.  Pop O’Neill stands off to Aunt Peggy’s left and Nana O’Neill sits at Peggy’s immediate left.  Rounding out the top row are O’Neill brothers Bud (Number One Son) and Tim on either side of their father, then the twins, Rob and Al, who were the youngest of the siblings.

Seated are Joan (Rob’s wife), Helen (Frank’s wife), Margaret Sheehan (the wife of Nana O’Neill’s brother Jack), then next to Nana, Rita Marie (my mother), Bette (Tim’s wife), and Theresa (Bud’s wife).  The individual photo to the right is my favorite of my mother, taken when Rita Marie O’Neill was 18 and a senior at Little Flower High School in Philly.

The extra “juice” that the Irish Catholic fighting men brought with them against the Germans at Normandy,  and against the Japanese in the jungles of the India-Burma border, or in the hostile waters of the South Pacific made them formidable adversaries and resourceful, tenacious soldiers and sailors.

Between my father, Frank Morris, and Eddie O’Neill (my godfather), I had three of the best examples that a boy could ever want.  I’ve been fortunate, indeed!

 

 

 

With the release of the new movie Chappaquiddick, the world will be treated to yet another chapter in the seemingly  endless story of scandal and tragedy that characterizes the Kennedy family saga.  America–and the world–seem to have an insatiable appetite for the bottomless supply of bad news and tales of improper behavior that flow like a geyser from the family that so dominated the political (and tabloid) headlines in the twentieth century.

I get it.  There can be no debate about the magnitude of the scandal in 1969 that took the life of a talented and dedicated young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, under highly suspicious circumstances.   Nor can there be any reasonable defense put forward about the behavior of Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy in the aftermath of the accident that resulted in the death of Ms. Kopechne and the unconscionable delay in Kennedy’s reporting of the incident.  The events in July of 1969 altered the course of American political history and cast yet another long shadow over a famous family that was already far too familiar with grief, tragedy, and scandalous episodes worthy of the Tudor Court of Henry the 8th in Medieval England.

I get it.  The patriarch of the clan, Joe Kennedy, Sr., was a bootlegger, a Hollywood mogul who broke all the rules, a proponent of the “America First” isolationist fringe who opposed FDR, and a serial philanderer who was never a serious contender for “Father of the Year” honors given the way he treated his children.  Yes, JFK was a notorious womanizer who was a little too friendly with shady characters who may or may not have been members of the mob, and whose presidency got off to a sluggish and rudderless start.  Yes, Bobby and Teddy Kennedy owed their political careers to the vast family wealth and fame that gave them incredible advantages that few other politicians could ever dream of–and they often acted like spoiled, entitled royalty who didn’t have to play by the rules that apply to everybody else.  You’ll get no argument from me on that score.

I get it.  Believe me, I get it.  While I have no interest in seeing the movie Chappaquiddick, perhaps it will play an important role in deepening America’s understanding of this terribly tragic and unfortunate episode in our nation’s history.  Just seeing the promotional ads for the movie have reminded me to continue my prayers for the repose of Ms. Kopechne and to pray for the consolation of her family who lost a gifted, idealistic, and hard-working daughter & sister who died far too early in a horrendous turn of events.  My heart ached for the Kopechne family in 1969 and it aches still.

What has prompted this blog post is something that has very little to do with this new movie or Teddy Kennedy’s bad behavior or unanswered questions about who did what in July of 1969 on a dark road in a remote place.

What I want instead is to initiate a new consideration of the WWII service of Lt. John F. Kennedy in the dangerous waters of the South Pacific in the summer of 1943 when the fate of the Allied Forces against the might of the Imperial Japanese Navy was still an open question. What I am requesting is that we move past the romantic, Hollywood mythology of PT 109, and all the stories of JFK that have been hardwired into our national consciousness to the point that we think we know all the details.  The simple truth is that we do not know all the details–most especially the most important ones.

In the posts that will follow, I will advance my argument on this point and I invite readers of this blog to weigh in, to present counter arguments, and to fill in details that I may not know.  There are sources I will cite that cast an entirely new light- not just on the fate of PT 109- but on the military and political career of John Fitzgerald Kennedy,

Let me state at the outset that I am not a professional historian. I am not an expert on the storied history of the Navy’s  Mosquito Fleet of WWII.  Nor am I as well versed on the design, operation, and mechanical specifications of the Higgins and Elco boats that comprised the PT fleet–but I am vastly grateful to those who are professional historians and naval experts. To these historians and nautical experts, I am immensely grateful.  Their input on my blog have made invaluable contributions and taught me a tremendous amount.  The readers and contributors to this blog have become highly valued companions on my endless path to knowledge about both the PT fleet and the wartime experience of my father.

Let me also state that there is one subject on which I am an expert.  As the proud son of an enlisted PT sailor who saw action in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific, I know what it was like to grow up under just such a father.  A man, an ordinary Navy veteran, who shared with me less than twenty percent of what he saw and experienced but whose life and parenting conveyed the deeper lessons that had imprinted themselves on the deepest part of his consciousness,

I had a father who was an enlisted sailor who knew what it was like to be on a PT base in Sardinia that was strafed by German fighter planes.  I had a father who was a radioman class 3 who came under fire from Japanese snipers while on patrol in the jungle-infested waters of some obscure island near Borneo in 1945.  The man I called “Dad”  always thought of himself as a simple sailor who was chosen by his fellow sailors to tell their newly named, green, PT skipper on PT 373 to go straight to hell when he ordered their boat to undertake a needless second run down that same river which had just cost them a beloved squadron mate to a sniper’s bullet.  And I can tell you that whoever that novice skipper was, he was smart enough to know that he’d best heed the words of Radioman Third Class Red Stahley.  This was not “Mutiny on the Bounty” by any stretch of the imagination, it was PT grit, common sense, and the enforced application of that old PT wisdom- “Officer or not, get your head out of your ass.”

Let me share with my loyal blog readers what I know for certain about the sailors–officers and enlisted men–of the Mosquito Fleet of WWII.  They were bold, reckless, short-tempered, loyal, rash, deeply skeptical, perpetual underdogs, glib, irreverent, deeply suspicious of authority, reluctant to apologize for mistakes, and more familiar than most sailors that each patrol across dark waters could be their last because one well placed bullet from an enemy plane or well-concealed sniper could send their fragile boat–and everybody on it–to kingdom come.

For all these personal reasons as well as what I have learned about JFK over the past seven years, I am calling for a reconsideration of the WWII service of a man whose mythology has overtaken the deeper truths of his wartime experience and shaped his presidency which, in turn shaped the final four decades of the twentieth century.  As a nation, we need to get past the romanticism of the movie PT 109 (as much as I loved it), the enduring myth of Camelot, and the bottomless tabloid fodder of Kennedy scandals.  Yes, Kennedy was a son of privilege, the heir to incredible wealth, and a charismatic figure who seemed to exude charm, class, and power.  But Kennedy was a PT skipper who teetered on the edge of death, despair, vast guilt, a wrecked boat sinking in flame-filled waters with dead and wounded sailors all around him and overwhelmed by a towering fear that most people could never imagine.

Let’s take another look, shall we, at what that set of experiences might do to a person and the course of their life in the aftermath, regardless of how much wealth and family connections they are heir to.

I wish the producer, director, and cast of Chappaquiddick all the luck in the world.  Their film may be a box office smash,who knows?  In the meantime, I’ll be very busy about other things.

What I am yearning for is an entirely new examination of Lt. John F. Kennedy, USNR and his service in the South Pacific in WWII. That same place that changed my father’s life forever and, to a large extent, charted the course of my own history.

So buckle up, blog fans.  We’re heading out for some deep, dark waters.  There’s lots to discover.

Posted by: SJS | April 3, 2018

The Goldwater voter who admired MLK

It was fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.  I was a junior in high school and I can remember that day like it was yesterday.  The evening before his death, Dr, King delivered one of his most memorable speeches and– in a way that was prophetic– spoke of the proximity of his own assassination.  I have listened to that speech hundreds of times. It never fails to inspire me and to rekindle my idealism, especially when that idealism is at a low ebb.

At the time of Dr. King’s death, my father had become a strong admirer of the man.  This represented quite a transition for Red, who had voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.  As Red became more attuned to the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s, I noticed that he was paying more attention to the arguments put forward by Dr. King.  I am quite sure that Red’s position on the Viet Nam war was heavily influenced by the opposition voiced by Dr.King began with ever greater intensity in 1966 and 67.  Having spent a good portion of his Navy career patrolling dense, enemy-controlled jungle rivers in a PT boat in 1945, Red found it hard to understand why young men the age of his son had to do the same thing in Swift Boats in a war against an enemy that had never attacked the United States.  The words of MLK gave expression to the growing anti war convictions of Red Stahley.

In the days following Dr. King’s murder, my father kept his car lights on during the day time–which had become a way of expressing grief over the loss of a significant national figure.  I vividly remember one car ride with my father on a Sunday afternoon when we were on Broad Street in Philadelphia.  Another driver flipped off my father and Red returned the gesture with gusto.  At an intersection a few blocks further north, stopped at a red light, on Broad and Olney, some guy yelled “Go to hell you n_____-lover.”  Red remained motionless, waiting for the light to change.

When the light turned green, Red looked calmly in the direction of his heckler then shouted, “Go f— yourself, you worthless punk.” before slowly driving away, never taking his eyes off the man.  I remember praying fervently that my father would step on the gas and get us out of there.  My father’s ability to hold a stare was beyond impressive–as I knew better than most.  All these years later, I remain convinced that if that man had dared to open his mouth again, Red would have pulled over our ’66 Dodge and jumped out.  Fortunately, silence prevailed.

“Whoa dad,” I said.  “You really told him a thing or two.”  Red just smiled and told me to get the Phillies baseball game on the radio.  “I fought in World War II to protect the free speech of a–holes like that,” he said. “And I fought to protect my free speech rights to tell them exactly what they can do to themselves.”  Point well taken.

In the above photo, Dr. King holds a photo of the three civil rights workers who were murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1964 when they were working to register voters.  The witness of Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner inspired  countless other young Americans to follow their example in promoting justice, equality, and the right to vote for all Americans.

Posted by: SJS | March 31, 2018

Rescue missons – another PT task

From the beaches off the Normandy Coast on D-Day to the waters of the Adriatic Sea to the islands of the South Pacific, PT boats performed countless rescue missions.  Scooping downed fighter pilots out of the ocean or searching for drowning troops of the Normandy invasion whose landing crafts had been hit by enemy gunners, the PTs used their speed and agility to find Allied troop and bring them to safety.  In this photo from the vast collection of PT Boats Inc,, two enlisted men demonstrate the rescue net mechanism– a vital part of PT boat deck gear that saved more lives than  will  ever  be known.

Posted by: SJS | February 13, 2018

Squadron (Ron) 4 Emblem

Ron 4 Emblem

Based in Melville, Rhode Island, at the PT Training Center, Squadron (Ron) 4 was the unit that gave the PT sailors their first taste of life on a PT boat.  The insignia of Ron 4 included the iconic mosquito image, in this picture cast as the wise instructor teaching the junior bugs the finer points of their boat.  This picture is courtesy of PT Boats, Inc.  As proud as the PT sailors were of their special role in the USN, they never took themselves too seriously.

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