One of the few remaining living Medal of Honor recipients is retired Navy Captain Thomas Gunning Kelley. He and his wife, Joan, recently paid a visit to the Sailors of the U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters on Naval Support Activity in Naples, while on a holiday in Italy, as shared in a feature on the Navy Times.
Kelley and the Sailors talked about various topics, including post-traumatic stress and notable moments in their careers. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the event that earned Kelley the Medal of Honor.
Thomas Gunning Kelley was born on May 13, 1939 in Boston, Massachusetts. He finished high school at the Boston College High School in 1956, and proceeded to study at the College of the Holy Cross, graduating in 1960. He enlisted into the service in 1960.
On June 15, 1969, then Lt. Kelley served as the commander of the River Assault Division 152, tasked with the extraction of a company of U.S. Army Infantry Troops on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province in Vietnam. His Medal of Honor citation recounts how one of the armored troop carriers, which had just reported a loading ramp malfunction, came under fire from Viet Cong forces from the opposite bank of the canal.
Kelley shared: “My first thought was ‘Not me, this isn’t happening to me… 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 suffered serious head wounds as a result of an enemy rocket hit; despite his injuries, Kelley continued to direct other boats until they were able to move to safety. He eventually lost his right eye.
Capt. Thomas Kelley was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970.