Colin Kelly

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Colin Kelly
Colin Kelly.jpg
Painted in 1942 by Deane Keller
Birth nameColin Purdie Kelly Jr.
BornJuly 11, 1915 (1915-07-11)
Madison, Florida
DiedDecember 10, 1941(1941-12-10) (aged 26)
Clark Field, Philippines
Oak Ridge Cemetery, Madison Florida
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Corps
Years of service1937 - 1941
Unit14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross

Colin Purdie Kelly Jr. (/ˈklɪn/; July 11, 1915 – December 10, 1941) was a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who flew bombing runs against the Japanese navy in the first days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as one of the first American heroes of the war after ordering his crew to bail out shortly before his bomber exploded, killing him. His was the first American B-17 to be shot down in combat.


Kelly was born in Madison, Florida in 1915 and graduated from high school there in 1932. He went on to West Point in 1933, graduated in the Class of 1937, and was assigned to a B-17 bomber group. He was the first Army officer to fly the Boeing Flying Fortress in the Far East.[1]


On December 10, 1941, Kelly's B-17C, USAAF 40-2045, (19th BG / 30th BS), took off from Clark Field in the Philippines. During its bombing run, with Sergeant Meyer Levin as bombardier, Kelly's plane slightly damaged the Japanese cruiser Natori.[2] On its return flight, the bomber was then engaged by the Tainan Air Group A6Ms which had been patrolling over Vigan. They attacked it, followed it, and attacked again. At last near Clark Field it began to burn, and Kelly ordered his crew to bail out; the aircraft then blew up, killing him. The attackers did not see this, and initially were credited only with a probable "kill", shared jointly by Toyoda, Yamagami, Kikuchi, Nozawa, and Izumi. Saburō Sakai, who has often been credited with destroying this aircraft, was indeed a flight (諸隊 shotai) leader engaged in this fight with the bomber, but he and his two wingmen do not appear to have been given official credit for its despatch.[3]

Early reports misidentified the Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara, which was present, as the battleship Haruna, which was not. Many reputable publications, including Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, continue to report that Kelly bombed and sank the Japanese battleship Haruna or the cruiser Natori or the Ashigara, and that the date of the bombing was December 9, 1941, and not December 10. Although initial reports were that the ship was sunk and Kelly's crew claimed the ship was heavily damaged, the Natori was, in fact, only lightly damaged.[4][5]


Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross For "extraordinary heroism" and "selfless bravery". Kelly had earlier in peace time also been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[6]

The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce posthumously gave its 1941 distinguished service award to Kelly on January 22, 1942, in Chicago. The award is given annually to the man under 35 years of age who has rendered the “most significant” service to the nation.[7]

Aviation artist Robert Taylor painted a picture entitled The Legend of Colin Kelly.[citation needed]

In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Colin P. Kelly Jr. was named in his honor.[citation needed]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter, "To the President of the United States of America in 1956" asking for an appointment for Kelly's infant son. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored the request and appointed Colin P. Kelly III, who graduated from West Point in 1963.[8]

Colin P. Kelly Jr. Street in San Francisco, near Oracle Park, was named in his honor in 1942. The street had previously been named Japan Street. Colin Kelly Dr. in Dayton, OH, is one of many streets near Wright Patterson Air Force Base named to honor Air Force heroes. Colin Kelly Drive in Forest Acres, SC, is also named in his honor, as is Colin Kelly Street in Cranford, NJ.[8]

The patriotic song There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere by Paul Roberts and Shelby Darnell (recorded by Elton Britt) places Colin Kelly alongside other legendary Americans in the line "I'll see Lincoln, Custer, Washington, and Perry, / Nathan Hale, and Colin Kelly too".{Published by Bob Miller, Inc., 1619 Broadway, New York, New York. Copyright 1952. Source:sheet music.

The "Four Freedoms Monument" and Colin Kelly Highway, both in Madison, Florida, are dedicated in his honor.[citation needed]

Colin Kelly Middle School in Eugene, Oregon, was named in his honor in 1945 by the school's first students, who preferred an "ordinary Joe" as a namesake, rather than prestigious military or political figures.[9] The school colors are kelly green and white, and the nickname originally was "Bombers." In 2013, the nickname was changed to "Pilots."[10]

Colin P. Kelly Elementary School in Compton, California, is named in his honor.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Congressional Record - 106th Congress (1999-2000) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)".
  2. ^ "Imperial Cruisers".
  3. ^ Shores, Cull and Izawa 1992, pp. 182.
  4. ^ Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc. (1981), p. 551
  5. ^ "Colin Kelly, USAAC, kia 10 Dec. '41".
  6. ^ "Valor awards for Colin Purdie Kelly Jr". Archived from the original on 2013-09-28.
  7. ^ United Press, “Capt. Kelly Honored By Junior Chamber,” The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Friday 23 January 1942, Volume 48, page 12.
  8. ^ a b Clark 2014, pp. 191.
  9. ^ Eugene's Historic River Road (PDF). Historic Preservation Northwest. June 2006. p. 8.5. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  10. ^ Welch, Bob (March 12, 2013). "From 'Bombers' to 'Pilots,' mascot reflects times". The Register-Guard. Retrieved 3 October 2018.


  • Burton, John (2006). Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor. US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-096-X.
  • Clark, James (2014). A Concise History of Florida. The History Press. ISBN 978-1626196186.
  • Shores, Christopher; Cull, Brian; Izawa, Yasuho (1992). Bloody Shambles: Volume One: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore. London: Grub Street. ISBN 0-948817-50-X.

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