b. 13/04/1923 Rada, West Virginia. d. 31/01/1945 Kesternich, Germany.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 30-31/01/1945 Kesternich, Germany.
Kelley was born in Rada, West Virginia, on April 13, 1923, and grew up in nearby Keyser. He was the middle child and only son of Jonah and Rebecca Kelley; his two sisters were Beulah and Georgianna. A sports enthusiast, Kelley played football and basketball while attending Keyser High School and also participated in Boy Scouts and activities through his church, Grace United Methodist. After graduating from high school, he entered Potomac State College where he played on the football team until being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943.
Sent to Germany, Kelley served as a staff sergeant with the 311th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Infantry Division. The division had been fighting for weeks to take the village of Kesternich, south east of Aachen, because occupation of the village would also give control of the nearby Roer River dams.
During intense house-to-house fighting on January 30, 1945, Kelley led a squad in repeated assaults on German-held buildings. Although he received two wounds, one of which disabled his left hand, he did not withdraw to seek medical attention but continued to lead his men. The next morning, he single-handedly sought out and killed a German gunner who was preventing his squad's advance before being killed while assaulting a second German position. For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor eight months later, on September 10, 1945.
In charge of the leading squad of Company E, he heroically spearheaded the attack in furious house-to-house fighting. Early on 30 January, he led his men through intense mortar and small arms fire in repeated assaults on barricaded houses. Although twice wounded, once when struck in the back, the second time when a mortar shell fragment passed through his left hand and rendered it practically useless, he refused to withdraw and continued to lead his squad after hasty dressings had been applied. His serious wounds forced him to fire his rifle with 1 hand, resting it on rubble or over his left forearm. To blast his way forward with hand grenades, he set aside his rifle to pull the pins with his teeth while grasping the missiles with his good hand. Despite these handicaps, he created tremendous havoc in the enemy ranks. He rushed l house, killing 3 of the enemy and clearing the way for his squad to advance. On approaching the next house, he was fired upon from an upstairs window. He killed the sniper with a single shot and similarly accounted for another enemy soldier who ran from the cellar of the house. As darkness came, he assigned his men to defensive positions, never leaving them to seek medical attention. At dawn the next day, the squad resumed the attack, advancing to a point where heavy automatic and small arms fire stalled them. Despite his wounds, S/Sgt. Kelley moved out alone, located an enemy gunner dug in under a haystack and killed him with rifle fire. He returned to his men and found that a German machinegun, from a well-protected position in a neighboring house, still held up the advance. Ordering the squad to remain in comparatively safe positions, he valiantly dashed into the open and attacked the position single-handedly through a hail of bullets. He was hit several times and fell to his knees when within 25 yards of his objective; but he summoned his waning strength and emptied his rifle into the machinegun nest, silencing the weapon before he died. The superb courage, aggressiveness, and utter disregard for his own safety displayed by S/Sgt. Kelley inspired the men he led and enabled them to penetrate the last line of defense held by the enemy in the village of Kesternich.
BURIAL LOCATION: QUEENS MEADOW POINT CEMETERY, KEYSER, WEST VIRGINIA.
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