The Disco Casualty That Became A War Hero

I asked if he ever talked about it. Stu Stanley shook his head no. Did they find out anyway? “Always.”

Maj. Stu Stanley (Ret.) grew up in Brooklyn, New York. From an early age he knew that he had a path set out in front of him. To be a United States Army Special Forces member. But when he turned 16 in 1971, a new love entered his life through his television set. Disco. Soul Train had just started airing and young Stu felt himself drawn to the colorful costumes and funky sounds. He started sneaking into the various disco clubs around New York City and though still underage, he had a natural gift for the moves. He became very well known throughout the clubs and scene and started getting media attention. Soon he was known as the unofficial face of disco.

But when he turned 18 in 1973, he had his other love came to the forefront. “America had been tied up in Vietnam for what seemed like forever. And even though most people I knew didn’t agree with my decision, I knew my country needed me to serve in a different capacity than just gyrating my hips to a beat. America just called my name, and I said I’ll be there.”

He left the popular disco club Leviticus still in his roller skates and boogalooed his way down to a recruiting office. He walked in the door and requested to join Special Forces.

“At the time, it just wasn’t something that was done. You couldn’t just walk in off the street and join Special Forces like these daft punks today. You went to the infantry first and then every other school you could get into and if you were lucky, Special Forces chose you.” And lucky was exactly what Stu was. In 1975 he was chosen for Special Forces and began his training. Soon his instructors began to notice a similarity to the “Hustle dancing hippie kid” they had seen on TV and in magazines and the recruit they had under them.

“They were smart guys. It didn’t take a lot to put two and two together. I wasn't that much older. So one day one of them asked me, 'Are you that fruity long haired kid that used to shake his pecker on TV all the time?' And I didn’t wanna lie to em so I told em yeah. After that, I never heard the end of it. They would put platform soles on my jungle boots. Glue rhinestones to the back of my fatigues. But I wore it all like a badge of honor. That’s the way, uh huh uh huh, I liked it.”

That would not be the only badge of honor Stu would wear. Over his career in Special Forces, he earned more awards for bravery on the battlefield and valor than any other man serving at that time. Including the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor. When asked about that day, his eyes sort of fog over as he thinks back.

“We were in some god forsaken jungle boogie somewhere with a temperature right around Satan’s taint. Everything went tits up and pretty much all of my unit had been mowed down. I had gotten shot in the gut and in the shoulder but I had managed to stop the bleeding and could get standing. They started rushing me from all sides but I just started kung fu fighting my way through em as they ran up on me. I figured disco had never died and I wasn’t going to either. After it was all over, I managed to make it to this flatbed truck and got it fired up. I loaded all my fellow operators in the back and I just started driving for our extraction site. All I could think in my head was the immortal words of the BeeGees.”

“Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,

You’re stayin’ alive, stayin alive’.

Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’

I’m a-stayin’ alive, stayin alive.”

At this point, a single tear can be seen rolling down from eyes glazed over with memories of foreign lands, shaking his groove thing, and fantasies of Donna Summers. He finished the lyrics out as he started to choke up a bit.

“Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah. Stayin’ alive. Stayin’ alive.”

That tear reaches his beard and rolls down to hang off one of the longest hairs at the bottom. It just seemed to hang there forever. The light behind it catching it and making the tear shine like the beautiful disco ball that hung in Studio 54. I could tell that Stu was done talking, so I stood up to leave him be. But as I walked away from the interview with the man in the tiger striped camo leisure suit, I couldn’t help but think of how much of a tragedy for disco and this dancing machine’s life had become.