Valor Friday

| November 15, 2019

Riverine Assault Craft.

Mason is taking a well deserved break from his Valor Friday articles, as he is shifting colors to his new AO. Moving, in other words. I know what he’d rather be doing. Until he’s back up, y’all will have to put up with my ramblings on the subject. For today’s VF we have (then) LT Thomas Kelly protecting his Army and Navy charges despite near debilitating injuries.

LT Thomas Gunning Kelley

Thomas Gunning Kelley (born May 13, 1939) is a retired captain in the United States Navy who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. From 2003 to 2011 he served as Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. He currently serves as the President of the Medal of Honor Society.

Kelley is born on May 13, 1939 in Boston to John Basil Kelley, a Boston school teacher, and principal, and Elizabeth Gunning. Brought up in a Roman Catholic family, Kelley is a graduate of two Jesuit schools: Boston College High School, Class of 1956, and the College of the Holy Cross, Class of 1960.

In June, Kelley joined the Navy through the Officer Candidate School program in Newport, R.I. After assignments as a surface warfare officer on the USS Pandemus (ARL-18) and the USS Stickell (DD-888), he volunteered for service in Vietnam as a lieutenant in command of River Assault Division 152, part of the Mobile Riverine Force.

On June 15, 1969, he led eight river assault craft boats on a mission to extract a U.S. Army infantry company from the bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa Province, South Vietnam. When a boat malfunctioned, he ordered the other craft to circle the disabled boat that had come under attack and placed his boat directly in the line of enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade struck nearby, severely injuring Kelley, but he continued to protect his men until they could get to safety, then ordered medical assistance for himself. Despite the loss of one eye during this action and the Navy’s decision he was no longer fit for service, he persevered in his requests to remain on active duty. Kelley’s following seagoing assignments included that of executive officer of the USS Sample (DE-1048) and commanding officer of the USS Lang (FF-1060), which deployed to the South China Sea in 1978 to rescue refugees from Vietnam, then to the Philippines as well as South Korea. Later he completed the Armed Forces Staff College course in Norfolk, Virginia, and served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in manpower and planning. In 1982, Kelley was assigned to Yokohama as the commander of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command Far East for oversight of its ships’ repairs and maintenance. His following assignment was as chief of staff for the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Korea. Kelley’s final assignment was as the director of legislation in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. There he worked closely with Vice Admiral Mike Boorda in enhancing the responsibilities and stature of enlisted personnel, while closely integrating minorities and women into mainstream assignments. He retired in 1990.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in the afternoon while serving as commander of River Assault Division 152 during combat operations against enemy aggressor forces. Lt. Comdr. (then Lt.) Kelley was in charge of a column of 8 river assault craft which were extracting one company of U.S. Army infantry troops on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province, when one of the armored troop carriers reported a mechanical failure of a loading ramp. At approximately the same time, Viet Cong forces opened fire from the opposite bank of the canal. After issuing orders for the crippled troop carrier to raise its ramp manually, and for the remaining boats to form a protective cordon around the disabled craft, Lt. Comdr. Kelley realizing the extreme danger to his column and its inability to clear the ambush site until the crippled unit was repaired, boldly maneuvered the monitor in which he was embarked to the exposed side of the protective cordon in direct line with the enemy’s fire, and ordered the monitor to commence firing. Suddenly, an enemy rocket scored a direct hit on the coxswain’s flat, the shell penetrating the thick armor plate, and the explosion spraying shrapnel in all directions. Sustaining serious head wounds from the blast, which hurled him to the deck of the monitor, Lt. Cmdr. Kelley disregarded his severe injuries and attempted to continue directing the other boats. Although unable to move from the deck or to speak clearly into the radio, he succeeded in relaying his commands through one of his men until the enemy attack was silenced and the boats were able to move to an area of safety. Lt. Comdr. Kelley’s brilliant leadership, bold initiative, and resolute determination served to inspire his men and provide the impetus needed to carry out the mission after he was medically evacuated by helicopter. His extraordinary courage under fire, and his selfless devotion to duty sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Category: Navy, The Warrior Code, Valor, Vietnam

Comments (6)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    We needs us an Iowa Class handy to fire a Gun Salute from the 16 inchers for the LT. Obviously from the story a Brave Warrior who continued to look after the Troops, even in retirement. Is LT Kelly’s exploits of derring do where ol’ lurch sckerry got his ideas of lurch being a war hero? Got a buddy that may have served with or near LT Kelly, He was a River Rat in 68/69.

    Thanks ‘Ed for this post. Hand Salute…Ready…Two!

  2. Sapper3307 says:

    Was John Kerry involved in this mission?

  3. Graybeard says:

    A Warrior and a Sheepdog of the highest caliber.


  4. Mason says:

    Great choice, Ed. I’ve only met one Medal of Honor recipient and it was Captain Kelley. He gave a speech to students at a middle school in my city. They had me and another uniform working “security” for the event.

    He was a great guy. Very down to earth. Has a very, very Kennedy-esque Massachusetts accent.

  5. BZ LT Kelley. I put in a request back in 65-66 for a transfer to those riverine boats, and up comes GM1 Smitty and after talking to me says that this type of work wouldn’t be for me and I listened to him. Who knows what the future would be for me if I did make the cut and maybe even served under LT Kelley if I would have shipped over.

  6. I forgot to mention in my above comment that the Navy was asking for volunteers for Riverine boat duty so that’s why I put in the request.