(On the occasion
of GEN Stillwell's departure)
MAJ Kelly presented
the plaque of 5 Red Crosses to GEN Stillwell, stating, in a soft Georgia
drawl, "Here General --- you wanted my aircraft -- take them", reminding
the general that, at the outset, the general had proposed assigning our
five "Red Crossed" helicopters to non-medical aviation units.
MAJ Kelly's efforts
set the standard for a viable method of battlefield helicopter medical
evacuation that non-medical aviation assets could not hope to achieve,
ultimately convincing major ground and aviation commanders of same.
Thus began the highly
respected DUSTOFF tradition of total dedication to saving the wounded that
continued throughout the war and since.
NOTE: MAJ Kelly was killed
on 1 July 1964 on a DUSTOFF mission.
GENERAL Stillwell was lost
over the Pacific in 196?
The DUSTOFF Association,
at it's 1997 Reunion,
honored the memory of my DUSTOFF
MAJ CHARLES L. KELLY, 57th
Medical Detachment (Hel Amb),
who was killed in action on
a DUSTOFF mission on 1 July 1964.
MAJ Kelly's wife, Jessie;
son, Charles Jr; and daughters, Barbara and Carol; were in attendance at
The following is a letter
that I wrote to CHARLES KELLY, JR, delivered to him on the occasion of
As the father of three grown
boys, my thoughts are with you, today, as the memory of your father is
being pleasantly jarred in the minds of those who were honored to have
served with him, and in the minds of all assembled here who "lived his
He, himself, simply lived
the heroic legacy of the grunty "combat medic" who never hesitated to respond
to the call of "Medic!" on the battlefield. The one difference was that
he wore a new-fangled piece of gear strapped to his back ---- a helicopter.
And that was the only difference.
Like the battlefield medic,
in the heat of battle, when all were "hunkered down", he knew that when
the frantic call,--- "Medic!"---, pierced the air, his response would be
Your dad believed that it
took a special person to volunteer to become that "combat medic". Some
would call him "crazy". The odds of his surviving the battle were much
less than those shoulder-to-shoulder to him.
But this grunty medic had
something else------he enjoyed an inner peace-------he had given many,
their lives back-----he knew that just his presence provided the soldier
with a modicum of "peace of mind" --- that he would not be alone in suffering.
Major Kelly was determined
that the DUSTOFF medical crews continue to guarantee that same dedicated
service and "quasi" peace of mind to the troops. The result of the adoption
of this brave and caring philosophy by DUSTOFF crews to follow, was phenominal,
as the world can attest.
Be proud, that those assembled
here, have carried on his legacy, and be especially proud of those who
followed his legacy even to death. Their actions gave life back, manyfold.
All the best,
Poignant speeches delivered
at this memorable reunion:
CHARLES KELLY, JR:
Good evening, I'm Charles
Kelly, Jr. and these are my sisters, Barbara and Carol. We are the children
of Major Charles Kelly. This is our first DUSTOFF Reunion and we are very
happy to be here. Since 1 July 1964, the Army, Army Aviation Association,
and especially the DUSTOFF Association has been very good to our family.
We have met a few of you here in the last couple of days, but I feel like
we know all of you. I feel like we are here with family.
My father was a catalyst and
an innovator in the development of Army Air Medical Evacuation. He devoted
several years of training toward this mission, and he completely devoted
the last six months of his life in this endeavor. Ultimately, he gave up
his life for this mission. He knew the risks of this mission.
I talked with Bob Mock last
night. He flew with my father daily and was the one who went to my father's
room to collect his personal belongings when he was killed. He said he
walked into the room and on a desk, in plain view, not hidden away in a
drawer, but laid out very neatly, was a packet of information on what to
do if he was killed. Bob said it was like he knew he would be killed.
My father was 39 and had three
children and a wife at home when he volunteered to go to Vietnam. I am
convinced that he took those risks because he understood the importance
of what he was doing and what it might mean to thousands of people. Over
the last two months, I have read literally hundreds of pages of letters
and diaries from Korea and Vietnam that my father wrote. I think I have
a pretty good idea of what he would say if he were here today. He would
say, "Don't call me a hero, just a soldier who did my duty to the best
of my ability to honor my country and family." He would give the credit
to his men and those that came before him and those that came after him
and carried on the tradition that he began.
The fact is, he could not
have done this alone. He was the first medical evacuation casualty ever.
He set many standards, was a proponent of night flying, and he fought the
generals for the right to fly anytime and anywhere. At one point, General
Stillwell wanted to have portable red crosses andjust put them on general
service aircraft when they were needed. My father was vehemently opposed
to this and eventually won this battle. If he had not, there would probably
be no DUSTOFF today. But all of this would have been for nothing if others
had not carried on after he was killed. I want to thank you for continuing
and building upon the DUSTOFF tradition. I consider the people in this
room to be true American heroes. I can think of no nobler cause than to
risk one's life to save someone else. And that's what DUSTOFF pilots do
for a living, day and night, anytime, anywhere. To you active duty pilots
and medics (I know you know this or you would not be here, but I am going
to say it anyway), when you are in the air and there is someone hurt or
sick on the ground, whether they are soldier or civilian, you become life
itself to them, the only thing that stands between life and death. You
should be proud. Your families should be proud of you, and I can assure
you of this, the Kelly family is very, very proud of you.
My family would like to take
this opportunity to give something back to the Dustoff Association. My
sister has put countless hours into this project, and we are very proud
of what she has done. If you would unveil the portrait please (sisters
Barbara and Carol unveil the portrait of Major Kelly). This is our father,
Major Charles L Kelly.
Our family especially wants
to thank General Patrick Brady. He carried on the tradition of my father
and kept his memory alive. He has been a very good friend to our family
over the past several years. It's been 33 years since Charles Kelly gave
an order to Patrick Brady. So, General Brady... Front and Center! We have
something special for you.
(General Brady was presented
with a portrait of himself in uniform.)
CAROL KELLY DORN:
As I continue to hear more
stories and learn even more about my father, I find myself more and more
intrigued by what it is within different people that make some unwilling
to go certain lengths but cause others to take heroic measures in fulfilling
often self-made obligations. How can people from such diverse backgrounds
and influences gain such a sense of responsibility that extends to all
humanity? What internal and external factors does it take to develop hero
qualifications? I have pondered over this a lot as I have thought about
my father and learned more about his background.
Charles Kelly was born in
1925 in a tiny town in Ga. Ever since he was a little boy he wanted to
be a soldier. When he was 6 years old, his father abandoned him, his mother,
and two younger brothers. Back then there was no welfare system as we know
it. People depended on the kindness of others and their own ingenuity to
get by. His mother - my grandmother - was a tough, independent woman. She,
herself, had come from a poor, rough, uneducated upbringing. She was a
small woman -less than 100 pounds.- but I remember her as a feisty - very
colorful, even eccentric person, with a hard exterior but a heart of gold.
Somehow, during those early days, she gathered the means and resources
to open up a restaurant which she ran almost single-handedly for the next
40 years from sun-up till late in the evening. This left the 3 boys basically
on their own most of the time. There wasn't much family life. But she stressed
education and a good work ethic, and obviously established a strong values
foundation because my father developed a deep sense of honor, duty, self-reliability,
and a spiritual faith that would stay with him through-out his life.
At age 15, he ran off and
joined the army during W.W.II where he was wounded in battle in Europe.
He came home, finished high school, got married, finished college and became
a high school principal. But the army was in his blood and he never stopped
wanting to be a soldier. So he re-enlisted and became a career officer,
always striving to be the best. In fact, at one point he was one of - only
3 or 4 men in the country who held 4 different badges - the combat infantry
badge, the combat medical badge, the paratroopers badge, and the aviators
wings. But he still wasn't satisfied. He always seemed to be searching
for that illusionary, ideal soldier, so when the conflict in Vietnam
began, he volunteered to go. The rest is history.
Recently, as I read through
some of his diaries and letters preceding Vietnam I sensed that he was
deliberately grooming himself for a certain great destiny. Of course, as
a young girl, I never thought beyond my own environment. His whole identity
to me was just being my dad. And he was a great dad -sometimes stern-sometimes
silly and teasing but always loving.
I have one particular memory
of him which seems very small but has become very significant and precious
to me. Often, on Sunday afternoons, he would take my sister, Barbara, and
me to walks in the woods. I think he did this to give our mother a short
break and also because he loved nature so much. One day as we were returning
home, we came across a dead rabbit in the road. He was all torn up with
his entrails hanging out. He was definitely dead. Of course, Barbara and
I were saddened as well as really grossed out over it. Our dad took us
home, then got a shovel and pail and went back, several roads away, to
scoop that rabbit up and move it to a better place.
Sometimes now, whenever I
try to envision my father flying in to rescue wounded soldiers on the ground,
often bleeding and torn up, I remember that rabbit and how he couldn't
just leave it there. I know that one cannot compare dead rabbits to dying
men but I never knew my father on an adult level so I cherish" that memory
as a child's glimpse into his mind-set. The Bible says that he who is faithful
in little things will be faithful in greater things. Looking back, I can
see how characteristic it was of him.
What creates a hero? There
really is no tangible formula for external factors. Heroes can emerge from
anywhere, from all walks of life, from many different backgrounds. However,
there are certain internal traits you'll typically find; qualities such
as consistency, responsibility, accountability, respect for others, often
a strong, spiritual faith. They are the people you know that you can trust
your life with.
In my father's case, I'll
also add, being prepared and calculating. Our mother has said he rarely
made mistakes because he thought so far ahead and tried to be ready for
anything. The few times he did make errors he would get very upset with
himself because he felt that he didn't think through it enough.
I do have a certain emptiness
that I will always carry with me - it is an emptiness familiar to anyone
who has lost someone they love. I have a great sadness that we 3 children
grew up without him. I carry deep regrets of not knowing him as an adult
and that we don't have more memories; in my brother, Charles' case, virtually
no memories of him. There will always be a feeling of loss.
And yet, I think of the sense
of mission that he had and the people he inspired - men such as General
Brady who came after him and learned some things from him and completed
and even went beyond what he began. It has been so gratifying to have men
come to me and say "I knew your dad. " and then tell their stories. I think
of the changes he made in the system and of all the soldiers and civilians
who would not have survived if not for him and others like him. This personal
loss that I feel is swallowed up by a much greater gain which includes
freedom and country and human dignity and well worth the sacrifice to keep
it in tact.
I cannot close though without
speaking of another type of hero, and that is the wives of army career
men. These women have to be tough and resilient to handle the lifestyle
of a soldier.
In my own experience, we moved
on the average of once a year. My mother had to be ready to uproot the
family, say good-bye to friends, settle in yet another apartment and make
it home, help us kids catch up in a different school and keep our lives
as normal and smooth as possible -as well as coping with her own personal
loneliness and new environment. It is too bad there is not an array of
ribbons for these army wives!
I am so fortunate to be able
to boast of two very close and special role-models in my life! When our
dad was killed our mother's major mission became to raise his children
the way he would have. The goal of her life became to make us into responsible,
caring adults that would bring honor to his memory. I think she did a great
I'd like to thank everyone
here at the Dust-Off Reunion for making the Kelly family feel so special
and important and so welcomed. "If you're ever in Georgia, y'all come see
BARBARA KELLY HOWERTON:
Thank you for the opportunity to
speak with you today.
I humble myself before you because though I'm a teacher, I'm a fish out
of water talking in front of a group about anything but biology. My name
is Barbara Kelly Howerton and I am the middle child of Charles Kelly.
difficult to decide what to say to you today that would reflect my thought
s of my father in way that would be of interest to you. Many of you
actually understand what my father's life was like more than I. You may
not have known my father but you have a connection to him and to each
other by a common bond that I don't share. My father was one of you.
I decided that I could share with you the legacy my father left me
personally because legacy is what this reunion is about. The continued
legacy of the Dustoff tradition gives testament to the courageous
achievements of the Dustoff pilots. You gather for this reunion each
year to celebrate that legacy and remember what it has meant and
to mean to the lives of so many people. All I can share with you is
what my father's legacy has meant to me.
My father died when I was only eleven so my actual memories of him
are the memories of a child. But growing up, the memories, the information
I learned from people who knew him and what I read about him meshed
together into what later became one of the motivating forces in my life. And
I learned later I was not alone. In 1989, Major General Pat Brady wrote these
words about my father in the beginning paragraph of an article he wrote
for Army magazine. "Today, after 25 years, I still remember in detail the
first time I saw him. I have often wondered why. It is the same with my
wife, but with few others. I certainly never knew at the first meeting
either would have on my life -- but this man has been with me these many
years, in my decisions and in many of my efforts to sort out what I wanted
to be." I can tell you, it was very exciting for my brother, sister and
I when we actually met General Brady and to listened to him talk about
father and about what Vietnam was like. The stories he told were amazing.
It made everything so much clearer to me and I am grateful to him for
spending time sharing our father with us.
It was not apparent to me until I was an adult that my father had
the type of impact on me that General Brady wrote about. I realized that
my father had left me something that was already at work in my life - his
legacy. The legacy he left was not just for me, it was for anyone that
influenced by it as I was. He left me motivation. Motivation to work
hard at what ever I do, to strive for excellence, and demand a lot out of
myself and those in my charge. He was a great motivation to me. As the
mother of three sons I tried to translate that legacy into parenting by
working hard to encourage, council and demand both correct behavior and
good grades from
my children. Of course, I was not 100% successful with all of them all of the
time but my husband and I worked hard at parenting. And in different ways
I am proud of all my children. They all believe that what they chose to do
with their lives should be of value to others. My sons never knew this
grandfather but he was indirectly influential in their lives because of
his influence on me and the legacy he left behind.
As I said earlier I am a high school teacher - my job is to
I feel blessed to be teaching at one of the best schools in the state
of Georgia. The work is very demanding and challenging and I would not
want it any other way. To motivate and teach kids that are very bright
is terribly exciting and rewarding but requires that I know my subject
extremely well, that I stay current and that I am well prepared. These
are the some of things my father learned as a Dustoff pilot. Again, I
don't achieve 100% out of all of my students all the time but we work
diligently. These young people are successful because they are willing
to sacrifice to strive for excellence. Because I have been inspired
and motivated, I hope that inspires and motivates my students. I believe
my father's legacy has again been indirectly translated into success. He
believed education was very important and I am honored to be able to help
young people reach for their
My father's legacy has meant a lot to many people many of whom
longer with us. But many of them, like my father, became better people
for having served as Dustoff pilots and their legacies live on also. The
Dustoff tradition is continuous. Mediocrity is unacceptable. I believe
my father's innate personal motivation to strive for excellence in all
things was fully developed as he served in the Army. The Army's ability
to teach its men and women discipline and to motivate them to achieve
excellence is a source of pride. But the army, like every other
organization, is made up of individuals like yourselves and my father.
A machine is only as good as its parts. The Dustoff machine has some
Each one of us in this room, no matter what our role in life, has an
affect on those we have relationships with or even with those with whom we
just come into contact. The affect on others may be positive or it may be
negative. I am thankful to God that the legacy that my father, General Brady
and men and women like them chose to leave all of us was one worthy to
try to emulate. At the end of General Brady's Army magazine article,
he wrote "Kelly was a man who made a difference. He was a leader, a man
who provoked openness, honesty and caring--who lasted beyond his lifetime.
The great thing about true leaders like Kelly is that they never leave
us. Dead or alive, the noblest part of their being remains behind,
becomes part of our being--" Whether each of us is a leader or a
follower, we each have a choice of the kind legacy we will leave behind.
We should give thought to what that legacy will be.
COL DAN GOWER:
President, DUSTOFF Association
Major Kelly's portrait
will hang in the AMEDD Museum on the DUSTOFF wall in the foyer of the museum.
On each side of his portrait will hang the memorial boards that honor those
DUSTOFF crewmembers who died in the conduct of a MEDEVAC mission.
This morning, Charles and
Barbara and Carol so eloquently reminded us that their greatest loss was
in the end a great gain. Charles reminded us that in throwing his last
ounce of measure into the mission, Charles L. Kelly ensured that those
who went before him and those who came after him would not have died in
vain...the victory we share in our profession is the lives we touch when
we risk life and limb to go where others dare not go, to do what others
chose not to do, and to return to health the sons and daughters of our
nation...Charles Kelly was just another name to me until this year...I
knew we had a heliport named after him...I flew from there hundreds of
times. I knew he said, "When I have your wounded."
I lived the ethic that is
DUSTOFF all the years of my active flying status. I preached much the same
words to my unit members as did Charles Kelly. Like everyone else in this
room, I understood in unspoken terms all that Charles Kelly stood for and
Yet, this year as President
of this great Association, this man became real to me. That realness first
became rich as I listened to Pat Brady give a talk to the officers at Fort
Hood shortly after we dedicated the DUSTOFF Plaza in his honor at Darnall
Hospital. I listened as this man, a true hero, a man that knew no visible
fear. A Medal of Honor recipient...., and who did he talk about more than
anyone else..... Charles L. Kelly. And then when I had the privilege of
meeting the Kelly family, the chapter was complete.
Everyone in this room has
lived it, everyone in this room has experienced it in some way...the words,
the life, the dedication, the legacy of Charles Kelly lives in each and
every member of this organization ... be they a service member, or that
service members spouse...Charles Kelly was a patriot, he was a loving father,
he was a soldier... he is one of my heroes.
This organization is the legacy
that Charles Kelly insured for all time...the legends in this room are
the living, breathing history of that hero...DUSTOFF lives, Charles Kelly
lives on in us.