World War II Medal of Honor Winner
Charles "Commando" Kelly
The One Man Army
He was called the "one man blitz' and "the one man army." Medal of Honor winner Charles E. "Commando" Kelly was almost the perfect soldier, but only when it came to dispatching the enemy. He was the first American in the European Theatre to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He performed feats so heroic, that they would make a Hollywood script writer shake his head. Sadly, Medal of Honor winner Charles Kelly seemed more at home on the battlefield than in everyday civilian life. His problems after the war with holding a job and raising a family could have been the results of undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but Kelly was so independent, we will never know.
Charles Kelly grew up with next to nothing. Born in September of 1920, he had eight brothers, few of whom finished high school. The Kelly home was the second and third floors of an old building on an alley in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There was no electricity, hot water or toilet and the boys all slept in the attic. But the house was kept clean by Irene Kelly, his mother. His father, James, was a blacksmith, and although he was very strict, he treated the boys well. Growing up in the tough German and Irish neighborhood, the Kelly boys got into more than their fair share of trouble, but they were always on their best behavior at home.
Kelly enlisted in the Army in May of 1942, but before he ever saw action he had already been in the stockade twice for going AWOL. He said that he just needed time alone, and that he never considered the consequence of his actions. Perhaps that could explain his knack for volunteering for incredibly dangerous missions once he got over to Europe. On September 13th, 1943, near the Italian town of Altavilla, Kelly, a private, was part of L Company, 143rd Infantry, 36th Infantry Division, and a portion of the U.S. amphibious invasion force on the Gulf of Salerno. Having only seen his first combat four days earlier, he volunteered to crawl two miles under constant enemy mortar, sniper and artillery fire to scout a German-occupied hill. Upon his return, he took three men with him into an area near Altavilla, which was a vital military target. Kelly and his party came under fire from as many as seventy German soldiers. But Kelly was able to wipe out one machine gun nest and according to the men with him, Kelly killed at least forty Germans.
Later that same day he was sent into Altavilla to bring back ammunition. Charles Kelly put together a chain of men one thousand yards long to ferry the much needed ammo back and forth. With that task successfully completed, he was ordered to secure a three-story house at one end of the town square. Kelly spent the entire evening guarding the rear of the house.
After dawn on September 14th, the Germans began their assault on the town, with the house that Kelly was assigned to guard as their primary target. Up in a second-floor window with a Browning Automatic Rifle, Kelly became the "one man army" that he would be known as forever after. Using his rifle, a tommy gun, a bazooka, a Springfield rifle from World War I, a carbine and an M-1, he let the enemy have it. He even got his hands on a 37 mm antitank gun in the home's courtyard and obliterated a sniper's perch in a nearby church steeple. From his vantage point inside the house, he threw a phosphorus grenade onto the roof of a nearby building that the Germans had stormed into, setting the occupied house afire. In the midst of this chaos, Kelly managed to drink some champagne! When he went down into the house's kitchen, he found several of his buddies preparing spaghetti and sauce. There was a table set with dishes, cheese, bread, watermelon, tomatoes and grapes. After the initial shock of this find wore off, he grabbed a bottle of champagne and downed some. He drank from the bottle as he shot at German snipers, later recalling, "It was the first champagne I'd ever had. To me, it tasted like soda pop or 7-Up."
With ammunition running low, he searched the house and found several 60 mm mortar shells. Curious if they would be of any use to him, he pulled out the pin controlling the propulsion charge. A secondary pin was removed, making the shell live. Kelly knew that if it now landed on its nose, the mortar shell would explode. He watched as several Germans approached through a ravine outside the rear of the house, and then he began heaving the doctored mortar shells at them like grenades. Seven or eight of them exploded, killing five of the enemy and stopping the German attack. Later, as the Americans left the town to return to their command, Kelly stayed and covered them, being the last man to leave. [/FONT]Charles Kelly earned a promotion to Corporal after his Altavilla bravery. The next months saw him in other battles, including the assault on San Pietro and the bloody crossing of the Rapido River, where he was promoted to Sergeant in January of 1944. US military papers began to carry stories of his adventures, and he was given the nickname "Commando Kelly". He was approved for the Medal of Honor, and received it on March 11th, 1944.
Still in the military, he was sent home to a hero's welcome in Pittsburgh. April 25th, 1944 became "Commando Kelly" day in the Steel City, and he was given a parade and a gold key to the city. Overwhelmed, he had only this to say when asked for a speech. "Folks, I don't know what to say, but thanks a lot." Everyone wanted a piece of him, from politicians to the Saturday Evening Post. He got money for the book and movie rights to his story, and the Army sent him on a goodwill tour with some other soldiers, pushing the sale of war bonds and demonstrating infantry battle techniques. He married Mae Francis Boise, a North Carolina restaurant cashier, and was honorably discharged in 1945. Along with his MOH, he had been given two Silver Stars and several other medals, bringing his total to ten. Prophetically, he told someone after his MOH ceremony that, "These medals will just be a lot of brass after the war, and I'll just be another ex-soldier."
Things starting to go bad for Kelly soon after he was discharged. He practically gave all his money away to his family, and a gas station he purchased didn't pan out as a business venture. His wife developed uterine cancer and died at age twenty five in 1951. His seventeen year old younger brother Danny, whom he had helped to enlist in the Army by signing the age waiver, went missing in action in Korea and was never seen again. He could not hold a job for any length of time, and his two children he had with Mae were now being taken care of by her parents. He met and married a woman named Betty Gaskins in 1952, and he had several children with her. He worked at various jobs, but again could not stick with any one of them. When people found out about his situation, donations and offers came rolling in due to his fame from his war exploits. But Kelly either couldn't or wouldn't take advantage of them. After working for the Kentucky Highway Department for over three years, he just up and left his family in 1961. He was out of touch with his family for almost fifteen years before he resurfaced. His wife had divorced him by this time, and despite offers of employment and a place to live from several friends and family members, he drifted from one place to another. He became a heavy drinker, but never let himself become a burden to his family.
Charles "Commando" Kelly died alone in a Veteran's Hospital on January 11th, 1985, in Oakland, Pennsylvania. He had been admitted with critical liver and kidney failure, but told the hospital personnel he had no family, despite the fact that he had five brothers living in the area. Looking back at his life, it seems likely that he was a victim of the misunderstood post traumatic stress that affected so many of the soldiers of that day. In 1982, a businessman named Bob Martin, who had idolized Kelly since seeing him as a child during Kelly's war bond tour, ran into his hero at a tavern in Pittsburgh. The two became friends for the remainder of Kelly's life. When asked to describe Charles "Commando" Kelly, Martin once told a reporter, "He looked pretty well beat up from living. But he was a war hero, a Medal of Honor recipient. There was something great about him."
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 machine gun 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."
Last edited by OneShot; 01-03-2010 at 01:50 PM..
Reason: Dubble alinea.
As I am the wife of Charels E Kelly III, and have his grandfathers original Medal of Honor certificate sealed with a few fingerprints from the exchange on it and myself and his daughter Jerrie often look at information about our line of soldiers. Commando Kelly's son Charles E Kelly Jr went on to join the army as well in the special forces and has so many medals and achievements of his own. He retired as a W4 . He was also a pilot. And has since passed away. Now the third generation is still going strong with 19 years in and going my husband is an infantry soldier. Also Commando Kelly did not die alone that day my husband as well as his daughters and brothers where there by his side. My husband was very young that day I am not sure where you get the information he "died alone" as he was very much loved and most certainly did not. The Kelly family is happy to validate that. So the Kelly legacy of soldiers still goes on. In itself an impressive example of a family of outstanding soldiers who have seen many wars,medals and achievement.