Robert E. Stahl Sr., 82, cryptologist during war

January 27, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Robert Edward Stahl Sr., who spent 16 months during World War II organizing coast watchers and guerrilla resistance in the Japanese-held Philippine Islands and wrote two books about that period, died Tuesday of cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 82.

Born in Shamokin, Pa., Mr. Stahl grew up during the Depression and moved to Baltimore in 1938, after graduating from high school, to work at the Goodyear Tire store on Mount Royal Avenue.

He enlisted in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was sent to Australia in the signal corps after he learned cryptology, according to his son Robert E. Stahl Jr. of Baltimore.

"He would decode messages and take them to Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur," Allied commander in the Pacific, his son said.

After it was found that valuable information could be gathered about Japanese activities in the Philippines with the aid of signals and codes, Mr. Stahl was taken there by submarine in 1943.

Although he originally was to stay three months, he stayed 16 months, organizing hidden groups of U.S. servicemen, stranded civilians and Philippine partisans. He left, swimming offshore to meet a Navy plane sent to get him, just before General MacArthur fulfilled his famous promise to return.

He was discharged as a captain and received a Bronze Star.

"When I was a kid, he never encouraged me as far as war or guns were concerned," his son said.

But using old diaries, research and interviews with surviving Philippine veterans, Mr. Stahl wrote two books during the past few years, titled You're No Good to Me Dead, which he said were General MacArthur's words to him before he was sent to the Philippines, and Fugitives -- Evading and Escaping the Japanese, the story of the men he worked with.

Mr. Stahl had met his future wife, the former Ruth Molin, at Knoebel's Grove swim club near their hometown in 1941. He told a friend "that's the girl I'm going to marry," his wife said.

They married in 1945 and while she taught school, he went to college, earning a degree in civil engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

A series of engineering jobs included work on the Fort McHenry Tunnel and the Russell Street viaduct in Baltimore. The couple moved to the city in 1955. Years later, he became vice president of McFarland-Johnson Engineers Inc. After retirement, he went into the home-improvement business with his son.

An active Mason, he belonged to Boumi Temple, and was a member of the Engineers Club of Baltimore and many professional societies. He was also president of the Anneslie Community Association from 1967 to 1969.

He learned to fly airplanes, and liked music, gardening, swimming and photography. He drove his motor home 250,000 miles across the United States and Canada, and was a volunteer at the Hampton National Historical Site.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 8 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave. in Towson, where he was a member and sang in the choir.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Deborah A. Stahl of St. Louis; two sisters, Miriam Cordell of Philadelphia and Betty Wiest of Mount Carmel, Pa.; a brother, Jack Stahl of Cape Cod, Mass.; and two grandchildren. A daughter, Holly Ruth, died at age 6 in 1963.

Donations may be sent to Trinity Episcopal Church.

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