Sixth Fleet Hosts Medal of Honor Recipient
NAPLES, Italy -- Medal of Honor recipient, Capt.(ret) Thomas G. Kelley paid a visit to Sailors at Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (CNE-CNA/C6F) headquarters on Naval Support Activity, Naples, Aug. 27.
While on holiday in Italy, Kelley and his wife, Joan, took time out of their vacation to come and speak with Sailors about their experiences and careers in the Navy.
“My wife has relatives in the area,” said Kelley. “When we decided to come and visit we knew that there was a naval facility in the area, so we asked the powers-that-be if we could come and talk to some Sailors.”
Kelley and the nine Sailors selected to represent CNE-CNA/C6F covered a wide range of conversational topics including post traumatic stress, their most cherished or memorable moments in their careers and one question that captured the nine Sailors undivided attention.
“What was going through your mind back in Kien Hoa Province?” asked Operations Specialist 1st Class Seamus McGinley. “What kept you going?”
While serving as commander, River Assault Division 152 during combat operations against enemy aggressor forces in the Republic of Vietnam, June 15, 1969, Lieutenant Kelley was in charge of a column of eight river assault craft.
His division was extracting one company of United States Army infantry troops on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa Province when one craft with loading ramp malfunctions came under enemy fire.
“My first thought was ‘Not me, this isn’t happening to me’,” replied Kelley. “But, then I gathered myself, trying to ignore my injuries, and did what I had to make sure that all of our craft got out of the canal.”
Kelley sustained major head injuries during his effort to protect that broken craft until it was repaired, ultimately costing him his right eye.
“I guess it looked so bad, that I would occasionally hear them say, ‘He’s dead’,” said Kelley. “But, I would yell right back, ‘No, I’m not!’”
Kelley also spoke about the comradery service members share in the military, touching many of the Sailors during their conversation.
“Kelley feels the same way modern Sailors and other service members feel when it comes to our time in the service,” said Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Jason Funk. “That one of the greatest parts of being in the military is the comradery we share; that sometimes this is a family closer than our own.”
After almost an hour of conversation and sharing stories, the Kelley’s said their goodbyes and left with warm smiles and comfort knowing that the military is in the hands of excellent future leaders.
“I feel that since this an all-volunteer service it means that today’s service member is very motivated and that they’re here because they want be here,” said Kelley. “It’s clear to me that any one of these men or women would have done the same thing I did if the opportunity ever presented itself; it’s nice to let them know that people from a different era appreciate what they’re doing now.”
Kelley received the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, for his actions in Kien Hoa. He retired from the U.S. Navy as a captain in 1990 and worked as a civilian in the Department of Defense for several years. He currently serves as Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services.
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