Posted by: SJS | May 2, 2017

JFK at 100

On May 29th we will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy in Brookline, Massachusetts.

While he was a son of privilege and wealth, his WWII service as the Skipper of a PT Boat in the South Pacific transformed him.  He emerged from the war after experiencing  close combat, shipwreck, and the loss of  sailors under his command.  His valiant efforts to rescue his shipwrecked crew on an obscure Pacific island came close to taking his life.  It was his time in the Navy that ultimately equipped him for rigors of the presidency to which he was elected in November of 1960.

In leading the nation, and the free world, through the treacherous days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, I have no doubt that Kennedy’s stamina, courage, and brinkmanship all had their roots in the traumatic episode he endured when PT 109 was sliced in two by a Japanese warship in the summer of 1943.  Having survived that encounter, Kennedy could call on his sharp instincts and a vast reservoir of personal fortitude to guide our nation through some of the darkest days of our history.

For me, JFK will always be the PT Boat President.  Through the service of my father, I will always feel a special bond with this man who continues to inspire hope, boldness, and a flair for life that is unique in public life.  The exhilaration I felt as a nine year old boy when he ran for president in 1960 has never really subsided–and I’m sure that it never will.

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Posted by: SJS | April 12, 2017

A diploma of distinction

My father never went to college.  It became one of his greatest regrets. Over the course of his life George “Red” Stahley gave voice to that regret often.  Many of his friends and many of my uncles who served in WWII took full advantage of the GI Bill and pursued degrees in business and other fields.  My father saw it as a missed opportunity for him and strongly encouraged his kids to get the best education possible.  We heard him loud and clear.  We pursued higher education in everything from healthcare to real estate management to philosophy.  My father took enormous pride and delight in the accomplishments of his children in the realm of higher education.

As I looked again through my father’s Navy file, I came across this Navy Training Course Certificate dated January 24, 1944.  Since January 24th is our son’s birthday, I noted that convergence immediately.  And, as I studied the details of the certificate, I realized it was for his training as a radioman.  The course of study he went through was rigorous, fast paced, and brutally demanding.  Sailors trained to be communications experts knew that their skills could be a matter of life and death, especially in the PT service where speed, mobility,  and coordination depended on a radioman’s knowledge and coolness under fire.

Red Stahley earned his certificate and became a Radioman 3c (Third Class) in late January of 1944.  Within six months, he would be putting his radio skills into practice in the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1945, in the steaming jungles of Borneo, he would be using his skills with Morse Code to collaborate with his closest buddy, Tom Saffles, to get their PT boats out of harms way on that fateful day when they came under fire from Japanese snipers on a patrol that was anything but routine.  The two radiomen, Stahley and Saffles, played outsized roles in getting PT 373 and PT 359 back to safety.  On a mission where one crewmate on PT 359 died under fire, the smooth work of the two radiomen ensured that the boats repositioned rapidly, took out the Japanese radio tower, and made it back to base with no further casualties.

Higher education on the GI bill after the war?  No, Red Stahley didn’t pursue it.  A Navy Training Course Certificate as a Radioman Third Class in 1944?  Yes.  Yes, indeed–and I could not be prouder of that accomplishment.  In my eyes, that humble, bureaucratic-looking Navy certificate earned by Red Stahley is more beautiful and meaningful than a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania or Harvard.  That simple, dignified document is a striking testimony to hard work, hours of study, and experience that saved lives and helped to win a war.  That is education at its very best.

Congratulations, Red–job well done.

Posted by: SJS | March 27, 2017

Armed, dangerous and ready to rock and roll

One of the more unusual photos I’ve come across from our good friends at PT Boats, Inc., shows the crew of a PT in Squadron (Ron) 15 posing with smiles, swagger, and a broad assortment of weapons.  The bold crew and their CO are brandishing pistols, knives, rifles, a machine gun, and even a machete.  The boat they are on is not identified.  When I saw that the photograph featured sailors from Ron 15, it immediately captured my attention since that was my father’s first assignment in the summer of 1944.  For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw his face in the back row but it was someone else.  As far as my research shows, Red Stahley was assigned to base duty as part of Ron 15 in various locations in North Africa and the islands in the Mediterranean.  Nonetheless, it is very easy to imagine my father climbing on board a boat with a weapon in hand, ready and willing to strike a pose for the camera.

The smiles on those young faces convey the confidence and daring that were so characteristic of the sailors of the Mosquito Fleet.  The weapons in their hands, however, reveal the unmistakable truth that war is serious business and that, in the flash of an eye, those weapons could mean the difference between life and death.  How easy it is to see my father reflected in the expressions and postures of those brave young men sitting atop the charthouse of their PT boat in Ron 15.

Posted by: SJS | March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day – Thank you!

The massive contribution of American women to the successful war effort is celebrated beautifully in this poster from the 1940s.  As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 we remember with pride and profound gratitude the role played by our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, and family friends who–in ways large and small–ensured an Allied victory in World War II.  As members of the armed forces, factory workers, and countless other ways, American women played a role that was absolutely essential to the successful outcome of the war.  God bless them all!

Posted by: SJS | February 22, 2017

PT 132 of Squadron (Ron) 21 – A day in the life…

crew-of-pt-132

Yet another photo of a PT boat crew made available to us from the vast archives of PT Boats, Inc (thank you, Alyce and Allyson!).  Posing on the deck of their boat in typical PT work attire, this crew in Mindanao, Philippine Islands, seems happy to take a break from the day’s duties to assemble for the photographer.  Among my most treasured photos of my father are from his days with PT 373 of Ron 27-posing with the other members of his crew in pictures very similar to this one.

Without knowing anything about the PT men in this photo, it is still remarkably easy to see the strong spirit of friendship, common purpose, and ease that existed between the crew mates.  Through the days and nights of their shared PT service, they would develop a sense of teamwork that was unparalleled in their  young lives.  The reliance of the sailors on each other often became a matter of life and death.  Being able to count on your mates to do their job competently became vital for survival.  I see a picture like this and I say to myself, “Yeah, they know what they’re doing here.”

The depth of the bond they forged with each other radiates through photos like this impromptu shot of the crew of PT 132.  It’s all in a day’s work–whether it’s swabbing the deck, repairing the hull, or getting ready to go out on night patrol through hostile waters.

If I have the good fortune to see ten more photographs like this one  — or 10,000 — I will savor every opportunity to look at the crew and admire the relaxed courage that shines through those young faces.  These are the faces of the men who won the war in the savage seas of the South Pacific.  Just knowing that my father and his good buddy, Tom Saffles, were among them is a source of great pride within me that swells each time photos like this find their way to me.

 

Posted by: SJS | February 3, 2017

Cutting a fast turn on a wide sea

pt-107-on-a-fast-turn

Among my favorite photos of a PT boat in action is this one of PT 107 beginning a fast turn toward her starboard side.  The raw energy of a PT at full throttle bursts through the photographer’s lens and allows a person to almost feel the momentum of the boat across the water.

Photos like this always take me back to my father’s stories of being on PT 373 when those Packard engines kicked in full bore and his boat bounced like wild over the dangerous waters of the South Pacific.  Those stories are among my earliest–and most cherished–memories of my childhood.  Hearing those stories never got old and every detail thrilled me to my core.

 

Posted by: SJS | January 10, 2017

PT strategy session- New Guinea 1943

pt-crew-debriefing-1943

Few photographs reflect the intensity, informality, and laser focus of a PT crew as does this remarkable shot that was taken in 1943 somewhere in New Guinea in the South Pacific.  Gazing at this group of seasoned vets, all with wisdom and experience beyond their years, I can easily envision my father and his buddy, Tom Saffles, listening intently to their officers and each other about the latest mission and conversing about what they can anticipate on the mission yet to come.  Their youthful vigor and clear-eyed determination suggest that they’re ready for anything.   Everything about this photo conveys the brash courage, can-do spirit, and dedication to teamwork that characterized the Mosquito Fleet.

My thanks to Frank Andruss for making this–and hundreds of other remarkable pictures from his Mosquito Fleet Exhibit–available to us.  Frank’s work in promoting the legacy and heritage of the USN’s PT fleet has been an outstanding contribution to everyone interested in WWII history but especially to those of us who have family members who served on PT boats, bases, and tenders.

Keep up the great work, Frank!  Your efforts are appreciated by more people than you could ever realize.  I urge all who are interested in PT history to visit his website:  The Mosquito Fleet Exhibit.  It is a tremendous resource for us all.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 19, 2016

December 20th, 1924

Mary and Junior 1926

Mary and Junior 1926

Had lung cancer not claimed his life in 1999, perhaps we would be celebrating my father’s 92nd birthday on Tuesday of this week.  I feel his loss most keenly at this time of year, especially since his death occurred on November 13th–just as the holiday season gets underway.  His birthday–coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas–was always a special part of the family celebrations that mark the final weeks of the year.

Through my research into his PT days, I’ve had the chance to meet my father on a new level.  Sharing conversations with men who knew him well and remembered him fondly opened up new dimensions in my connection to him.  The voyage of discovery continues and I am so grateful for the wealth of knowledge and insight that has emerged through the memories of PT veterans who served with my father.  And I am grateful as well to the extended family of my fellow PT “Splinters” who have broadened my understanding of the Mosquito Fleet and its inspiring history.

In the photograph, my father stands with his mother, my grandmother Mary (Nana) Stahley.  In Nana’s face, I can so clearly see traces of my four sisters.  In my father’s face, there are mirror images of my children as toddlers.  Family photos like this one always lead me to a wider appreciation of the precious gifts we have inherited from those who came before us.

Best wishes to all for a happy Christmas, a healthy new year, and a peaceful holiday season Thanks for your continued support.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | December 7, 2016

75th Anniversary of December 7, 1941

nested-pt-boats

On this day in 1941 – a Sunday – George (Red) Stahley was in his junior year at Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, PA.  He told me that shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor he decided he would enlist in the Armed Forces.  At first, he wasn’t sure which branch but he soon settled on the Navy.  He wanted to go right away but was convinced to finish high school and then entered the service as soon as he graduated in the Spring of 1943.

The above photo was shared with me by Randy McConnell (thanks Randy!) and it shows PTs 359 and 358 nested somewhere in the South Pacific.  Red’s closest buddy, Tom Saffles, served aboard PT 359 so it was a real thrill to get this photo and see the boat as it looked when Tom stepped aboard in 1945 to serve as radioman.

December 7th was a day that changed the lives of countless Americans.  We remember with gratitude and respect all those who summoned the courage–and determination–to step forward and serve.  Our debt to them could never be adequately repaid.

 

 

Posted by: SJS | November 20, 2016

JFK RIP – 53 years and we still mourn

JFK 1944

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet during a trip to Dallas Texas.  Although this tragedy occurred over half a century ago, I remember the moment as if it happened yesterday.  I was twelve years old–a seventh grader–and it felt like the world had just been torn apart.  The intensity of those feelings and the level of grief that overwhelmed me were unlike anything I had ever experienced in my young life.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I am experiencing emotions that I have not had to contend with since this time period in 1963.  And this time around, those intense feelings have been–and continue to be–compounded by the fearful communications I receive daily from relatives, friends, and professional associates.  My relatives, friends, and colleagues in the Latino community, the Muslim community, the LGBT community, the immigrant community, and the African-American community are struggling mightily with the hate and threats that have been unleashed across the country since the election.

People are frightened and fearful to a degree I have never before experienced.  The grief and fear that emerged in the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy pales in comparison to what I am seeing these days.

As we mark the anniversary of President Kennedy’s death and prepare for our national holiday of Thanksgiving, may we all step back, take a deep breath, and remember the core values of our beloved nation.  The United States–a nation of immigrants–was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all.  The presidency of JFK embodied the very best of who we are as a people.  How fortunate we were to have as his successor President Lyndon Baines Johnson who preserved and expanded Kennedy’s legacy–especially in the realms of civil rights and voting rights.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I am especially grateful for the memory of the courageous PT Skipper who served with heroism and selflessness during his Navy service in the South Pacific and went on to become the president.  May he rest in peace and may his example inspire and encourage us to always follow the better angels of our nature–as individuals and as a nation.

 

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