Charles E. Kelly
|Charles E. Kelly|
|Nickname(s)||"Commando Kelly"; "The One Man Army"."|
September 23, 1920|
|Died||January 11, 1985
|Place of burial||Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942 - 1945|
|Unit||3rd Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Medal of Honor|
Charles E. Kelly (September 23, 1920 – January 11, 1985) was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II. Kelly was the first enlisted man to be decorated with the Medal of Honor for action on the European continent.
Prior to his military service, the youthful Charles Kelly had made his living with a street gang in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and frequently got in trouble with the law. Kelly joined the Army in Pittsburgh in May 1942, and by September 13, 1943 was serving as a Corporal in Company L, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. After voluntarily participating in several patrols on that day, near Altavilla, Italy, he helped to defend an ammunition storehouse against attack by German forces. He held his position behind the storehouse all night, then took up a position inside the building. When withdrawal became necessary, he voluntarily stayed behind and held the German soldiers at bay until everyone had been evacuated from the storehouse, at which time he withdrew and was able to rejoin his unit. For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor five months later, on February 18, 1944.
Medal of Honor citation
Kelly's official Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. On 13 September 1943, near Altavilla, Italy, Cpl. Kelly voluntarily joined a patrol which located and neutralized enemy machine gun positions. After this hazardous duty he volunteered to establish contact with a battalion of U.S. infantry which was believed to be located on Hill 315, a mile distant. He traveled over a route commanded by enemy observation and under sniper, mortar, and artillery fire; and later he returned with the correct information that the enemy occupied Hill 315 in organized positions. Immediately thereafter Cpl. Kelly, again a volunteer patrol member, assisted materially in the destruction of 2 enemy machinegun nests under conditions requiring great skill and courage. Having effectively fired his weapon until all the ammunition was exhausted, he secured permission to obtain more at an ammunition dump. Arriving at the dump, which was located near a storehouse on the extreme flank of his regiment's position, Cpl. Kelly found that the Germans were attacking ferociously at this point. He obtained his ammunition and was given the mission of protecting the rear of the storehouse. He held his position throughout the night. The following morning the enemy attack was resumed. Cpl. Kelly took a position at an open window of the storehouse. One machine gunner had been killed at this position and several other soldiers wounded. Cpl. Kelly delivered continuous aimed and effective fire upon the enemy with his automatic rifle until the weapon locked from overheating. Finding another automatic rifle, he again directed effective fire upon the enemy until this weapon also locked. At this critical point, with the enemy threatening to overrun the position, Cpl. Kelly picked up 60mm. mortar shells, pulled the safety pins, and used the shells as grenades, killing at least 5 of the enemy. When it became imperative that the house be evacuated, Cpl. Kelly, despite his sergeant's injunctions, volunteered to hold the position until the remainder of the detachment could withdraw. As the detachment moved out, Cpl. Kelly was observed deliberately loading and firing a rocket launcher from the window. He was successful in covering the withdrawal of the unit, and later in joining his own organization. Cpl. Kelly's fighting determination and intrepidity in battle exemplify the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.
After receiving the Medal, Kelly toured the country with a group of other infantrymen as part of the Army Ground Forces' "Here's Your Infantry," demonstrating various battle techniques and selling war bonds. When the tour ended, Kelly was assigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Kelly received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and the rank of technical sergeant.
Post war life
Kelly was less successful in his personal life. He opened a service station on the North Side of Pittsburgh in 1946, but was forced to sell it in 1947 after a downturn in business and a robbery. His wife Mae was diagnosed with uterine cancer that same year, and died in 1951. The cost of the radiation treatments for Mae eventually resulted in Kelly losing his home in foreclosure.
In 1952, while travelling across the country campaigning for Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kelly was reintroduced to Betty Gaskin, a young woman he had met while stationed at Fort Knox. The two were married six weeks later, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky.
Kelly spent most of his life holding down a series of short lived jobs. This, coupled with poor health, led to financial difficulties and problems with alcohol. Kelly left his second wife and children in 1961; they were divorced in 1962. In late 1984 Kelly was admitted to Veterans Hospital in Pittsburgh, suffering from kidney and liver failure. He died January 11, 1985 at age 64. He was buried at Highwood Cemetery in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
In 1987, the Oakdale Army Support Element in Oakdale, Pennsylvania was redesignated the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility.
- "Kelly Earns a Medal". Time. March 20, 1944.
- A Great Day For The Kellys,1944/04/27 (1944). Universal Newsreels. 1944. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
- Levin, Steve (May 31, 1999). "North Side's battlefield hero found life's wounds too deep". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Levin, ibid
- "Charles E. Kelly Support Facility (CEKSF)". Global Security.org. Retrieved 2008-11-12.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
- "Medal of Honor recipients - World War II (G–L)". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. June 8, 2009. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
- "Charles "Commando" Kelly, interviewed by Mike Wallace on The Mike Wallace Interview". June 30, 1957. Retrieved September 27, 2010.