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First Name: Colin

Last Name: Kelly

Birthplace: Monticello, FL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: U.S. Army Air Corps (1926 - 1942)

Middle Name: Purdie

Date of Birth: 11 July 1915

Date of Death: 10 December 1941

Rank: Captain

Years Served:
Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr.

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1937

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr.
Captain, U.S. Army Air Corps

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. was born on 11 July 1915 in Monticello, FL, the home of his mother's parents, but grew up in nearby Madison. He had a typical American childhood growing up in the small town located in the extreme north portion of the state near the Georgia border. Colin attended the local elementary school while active in the Boy Scouts and became interested in Aviation. He was an excellent student at Madison High School which led to an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy after his graduation in 1932.

Kelly entered the Academy in 1933 and graduated in the Class of 1937 with a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After graduation, Kelly received his primary flight instruction and earned his wings at Randolph Field in San Antonio, TX. He was then assigned to a B-17 bomber group.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, Kelly was promoted to Captain and assigned to the 42nd Bomb Squadron in Hawaii as a B-17 commander. In September of 1941, Kelly and his crew flew to Clark Field in the Philippines for duty.

On 10 December 1941, Pearl Harbor was still smoldering when the Japanese turned their attention to sneak attacks on Clark Field in the Philippines. Captain Colin Kelly and his crew managed to get their B-17C, only partially loaded with bombs, into the air during a bombing raid on the airfield by Japanese Zero fighters.

An invasion fleet was spotted off the coast of Luzon. The bombardier dropped the load on the largest of the Japanese ships, the cruiser Natori, with one hit igniting a huge blaze on the target. On its return trip to Clark Field, the bomber was attacked by a number of Japanese Zero fighters from the Tainan Air Group, led by their Ace Saburo Sakai. The B-17 was hit many times and set afire; the waist gunner was hit and killed. Kelly ordered the rest of the crew to jump as he and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Donald Robins, remained at the controls to steady the aircraft. As the 6th and final crew member exited the plane, Kelly and Robins attempted to escape but the plane exploded, ejecting both men. Robins was able to open his parachute in time, but Kelly hit the ground with his parachute unopened.

The rest of Kelly's crew survived the attack, although some were captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war as POW's.

The heroic story of the exploits of Kelly and his crew electrified the nation. Due to his selfless acts of courage, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest award for valor, by General Douglas MacArthur.

Kelly was survived by his toddler son "Corky," Colin B. Kelley III. A national fund spearheaded by a Tampa newspaper garnered thousands of dollars placed into a "Corky" fund to care for the youngster. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter to "the President of the United States in 1956" asking that Kelly's infant son get an appointment to West Point. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored the request and appointed Colin P. Kelly III to the U.S. Military Academy.

[Captain Kelly's son, Colin P. Kelly III, did attend, and graduate from, the USMA in 1963. However, he became an Episcopal Priest during his varied military career. At one time he served as Assistant Chaplain at West Point. After retiring from the military, he became pastor of an Episcopal church in New Mexico during which time he was honored by invitation from the 1996 104th U.S. Congress to give the opening prayer.

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain (Air Corps) Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. (ASN: 0-20811), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight of nine B-17 bombers from Honolulu to the Philippine Islands from 5 September to 12 September 1941. Captain Kelly displayed skillful airmanship and accurate knowledge of the highly technical details involved in the successful execution of the flight which involved traversing by air uncharted waters from Wake Island to Port Moresby and Darwin and thence to Fort Stotsenburg. The speed with which each phase of this flight was accomplished indicated a high quality of navigation. This outstanding achievement reflects the highest credit on the military forces of the United States.


● Aviation artist Robert Taylor painted a portrait entitled The Legend of Colin Kelly.
● In World War II, the United States Liberty Ship SS Colin P. Kelly, Jr. was named in his honor.
Colin P. Kelly Jr. Street in San Francisco, near AT&T Park, was named in his honor in 1942. The street had previously been named Japan Street.
Colin Kelly Drive in Dayton, OH, is one of many streets near Wright-Patterson AFB named to honor Air Force heroes.
● According to his autobiography, General Colin Powell, former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, was named after Kelly.
● The patriotic song "There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" by Paul Roberts and Shelby Darnell (recorded by Gene Autry) places Colin Kelly alongside other legendary Americans in the line "I'll see Lincoln, Custer, Washington and Perry, / Nathan Hale and Colin Kelly too."
● The town park in Madison, FL, now known as The Four Freedoms Park, derived its name from remarks made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 Annual Message to Congress. In that speech, President Roosevelt spoke of the four basic freedoms; Expression, Worship, Want and Fear. In the center of the park is the "Four Freedoms Monument," a memorial to Captain Kelly designed by famed sculptor Walter Russell, funded by the Women's National Institute, and dedicated on 14 June 1944 by the Governor of Florida. Colin Kelly Highway Madison is also dedicated in his honor.
Colin Kelly Middle School in Eugene, OR, was named in his honor in 1945 by the school's first students, who preferred an "ordinary Joe" as a namesake, rather than prestigious military or political figures. The school colors are Kelly green and white, and the nickname is "Bombers."
● A book titled "The Legend of Colin Kelly, America's First Hero of WWII" co-authored by Dennis E. McClendon and Wallace F. Richards was published.
● In August 2000, the newly-constructed post office in Madison, FL, was dedicated and renamed in honor of Captain Kelly.
● An elaborate monument with the bust of Kelly stood along the runway at Clark AFB in the Philippines until the facility was closed and then it was relocated to the huge American Cemetery and Memorial located in Manila.
● A transport ship, the USS Colin P. Kelly was launched during World War II. Ironically, it was sunk after the war was over after hitting a mine in the English Channel.

Death and Burial

Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. was killed in action on 10 December 1941 in the Philippines. His remains were hastily interred at Clark Field and then returned after WWII, with great fanfare, to his hometown of Madison and re-buried in the town cemetery with full military honors. His burial site is in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Madison, FL.

Honoree ID: 2697   Created by: MHOH




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