“Is your Father also Jesse Stay?”
I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have heard those words when introducing myself. Whether I was registering for school, going to church, a Boy Scout, or even half-way around the world or in multiple states in the US, it seems there was always someone that knew my Grandpa, had some story to tell about how he influenced their lives, and what a great man he was. Despite the name, they, of course weren’t referring to me, but rather my name sake, my Grandfather, Colonel (President, Bishop, and Patriarch) Jesse Eldred Stay.
Talking about his life would take an entire book to publish (you can read in detail about him here – it really is worth reading!) – he was, quite simply, a great man, and I mean great in the very sincere and large/tall sense of the word. I remember one family telling me when they met me about how he helped bring them back to Church and changing their lives as they did so. I remember stories from other families of him helping them in times of need, fixing their cars, helping them with home repairs, and more. Everywhere I have gone in life, my Grandfather’s name was recognized and honored by many. There is a very good chance some of you, my readers, have had some brush with him over your own lives.
Grandpa was a War Hero. In World War II he was a B-24 bomber pilot in the 307th, 11th, and 42nd Bomb Groups for the United States Army Air Corps (there was no air force back then, but he soon became part of the Air Force after World War II). He flew many missions, risking his life, getting shot at and shooting back, so that you and I could maintain our freedom in this world. He was a true believer and maintainer of freedom.
At the highlight of his career (if you can really call World War II a “highlight” – I know he wouldn’t), he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, one for flying over Wake Island (he also flew over earlier at only the second time Wake Island was bombed by the US) despite most of his squadron being shot down. He literally saved the world with his own bare hands. Of the 40+ missions he flew in World War II, with five airplanes flying at his wing going down, he was only hit once, with one small 7.7mm hole in the bottom of his plane on a raid on Wake Island. In a letter to my Grandmother during the War, he shares this story:
“I found out that this ship (his airplane) will stand up, with any luck at all, against any number of Zeros. I also found out a very fine thing about the men in this outfit. As we were leaving our target in the raid, we heard one fellow say over the radio that his ship had been crippled and that he had been forced to fall behind. Naturally that meant that all the Zeros in the sky would be on him; so we turned around to give him some help. As we turned, we saw a wonderful sight. Every ship in the flight had the same plan. They had turned as one ship and soon we had the crippled ship tucked among us where we could protect him with our converging fire. I don’t believe that I will ever forget that. Every plane, without command, had turned back into the fight to help this one fellow out of a tough spot.”
These words show the integrity of this man and devotion he had to those he was fighting with. He would have done this for any one of his fellow squadron members.
Also notable, of his War accomplishments, it was one of his suggestions that led to the first recorded parachute landing. From his words:
Finally my wing man, 1st lt. Charles Pratte, had to leave also and headed for Tarawa to re-fuel. He had over three hundred holes in his airplane but didn’t have one man wounded. On one pass the Japanese machine guns had stitched holes the length of his fuselage and had blown up the oxygen tanks which had knocked down the two waist gunners in time for the machine gun bullets to pass through the fuselage where they had been standing. I later found out that his hydraulic system was also shot out and he landed at the new strip at Tarawa with parachutes tied to the waist and tail guns and which the crew men deployed as they touched down to slow the airplane because they had no brakes. We had talked about this possibility before but the crew of the Belle of Texas received a commendation from General Hap Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Army Air Corps for making the first recorded parachute landing.
Since then, every time I see a Space Shuttle land, I think of him as having had a contributing factor in allowing man to fly and come back from Outer Space.
It was said of him in his Squadron History,
“The greatest loss to the squadron was that of the Commanding Officer, Captain Jesse E. Stay. Captain Stay was with the squadron for nearly two years, beginning in April 1943, and was C.O. longer than any other man in the squadron’s history. He took part in practically every mission flown by the squadron since its arrival in Guam, either actually or in their preparation. He received the D.F.C. from Admiral Nimitz for his leadership in the highly successful but disastrous Wake raid in July 1943.
“As flight leader, he flew against the Marshalls, Gilberts, and Nauru, from the Ellice Islands. In his capacity as commander he accepted the mining project, which others had turned down, and led the unit to a superb record in its execution.
“Capt. Stay was missed by the members of the squadron who remained behind to carry on.” (p.35)
In his entire career he received 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 8 Air Medals for his service in the War. He sacrificed his all so that he could win freedom for this Country and many others.
It wasn’t just Grandpa’s military service that made him honorable. While he went on and did many things in the military, including putting an end to the United States Air Force UFO investigation program (which, to this day he still says, and I’ve asked him frequently, that they found no evidence of such), being on 24 hour notice with engines on during the Cold War, and being the first Colonel over the BYU Air Force ROTC, his Church service and devotion to God were paramount to his life. Throughout his life, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served as a Bishop, Stake President, Regional Representative (over the L.A. area), Mission President, member of the General Sunday School Presidency (with Elder Russell M. Nelson, now an LDS Church Apostle) for the LDS Church, a member of the Los Angeles LDS Temple Presidency, Sealer, and Patriarch. His devotion to God came first, and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, never ever drank a sip of Alcohol, never drank a sip of Coffee or Tea, remained faithful to his wife and 7 children, and served faithfully in his Church assignments with no pay for his service. He was also a Scout Master, and during his service in the Boy Scouts received the Silver Beaver Award. He touched the lives of many during his life of Service.
It was in Hawaii, when my Grandpa was head of Public Affairs for the LDS Church College there (now BYU Hawaii), that Judge Whitaker, a long-time friend of my Grandfather’s, invited him during the shoot of “Johnny Lingo” to come and serve as his Assistant Director of Motion Picture Production at the BYU Motion Picture Studios. My Grandfather packed up his family and moved back to Utah, and under the direction of Ernest Wilkinson (also longtime friend) and LDS Church President and Prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, produced and directed such shows as “The First Vision”, “Uncle Ben”, “The Gift”, “The Mail Box”, “John Baker’s Last Race”, and even the famous talk by Spencer W. Kimball asking members to “Lengthen [their] Stride” and “Go Ye into All the World” (Many LDS Church members may be familiar with these).
He recalled an experience with President Kimball which, to me shows the love and respect that even LDS Church leaders had of him:
“This morning I was called up to Salt Lake City to show the film “Where Jesus Walked” to President Kimball for his approval. The showing was to be in the fifth floor auditorium of the Church Administration Building. This is the room where the Council of the Twelve hold their regular meetings. I arrived early and had the film ready on the projector and was sitting alone in the room. President Kimball and Arthur Haycock, his secretary, arrived a few minutes before the scheduled time for the showing. President Kimball came over to me and took my hand in both of his. He looked up at me and smiled and told me how happy he was to see me. He then put both of his arms around me in a warm embrace and told me that he loved me. I was thrilled and touched and told him that I loved him and sustained him with all of my heart. This was no maudlin moment but the sincere expression of love between two bearers of the Priesthood. The Lord has surely preserved him for his holy calling as President of the Church and His Prophet on the earth. I am blessed to be associated with him. I know that I am nothing special to him above other men but he has the ability to make each person he meets feel that he loves him more than anyone else in the world. I felt this was a special moment worth recording.”
Through the Church movies he Directed and Produced, he also touched many lives, in and out of the LDS Church.
My Grandfather, Jesse Eldred Stay, died peacefully this morning at 7:13 am. I would not pay proper respect to him if I didn’t embrace this moment in celebration of his life, his accomplishments. At the same time I look forward to the future when he and I, and his family of 7 children, 50 Grandchildren, and numerous Great-Grandchildren, what he would consider to be his greatest life accomplishment, can be with him again. Grandpa was a Sealer in the Los Angeles temple of the LDS Church. As a sealer, he married and sealed me and my wife together like he did most of his children and grandchildren, for what we believe to be, time, but not just time – all eternity beyond this life. While I have my 3 month old son, Jesse Eldred Stay III, to continue this legacy in this life after me, my Grandfather’s greatest accomplishment is giving us hope, and knowledge that we, as a family, can be with him and each other again when we pass away, and always be able to cherish and respect the example that he gave to us here in this life. Seth Godin recently asked people to point out, celebrate, and respect the Superheroes in our lives. My Grandfather is my Superhero! He truly was a real-life Super-man. I have had the privilege to have known him longer than any other man, other than my Dad, in this life and it is my honor. It is with this respect, hope, and faith, that I honor, love, and thank him, for the life, both mortal and eternal, that he gave us.