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First Name: Joe

Last Name: Kelly

Birthplace: Waverly, IN, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: William

Date of Birth: 19 January 1910

Date of Death: 08 July 1979

Rank: General

Years Served: 1932-1964
Joe William Kelly

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1932

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Joe William Kelly
General, U.S. Air Force

Joe William Kelly was born on 19 January 1910 in Waverly, IN. He graduated from high school in Martinsville, IN, in 1927 and attended DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, for one year. In 1928 he entered the U.S. Military Academy and graduated in June 1932 as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry.

After completing flying school in 1933, Kelly was assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, MI, the same unit to which Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was assigned in World War I. From February to May 1934, Kelly was an Air Mail pilot for the Army Air Corps, flying from Newark, New Jersey and Columbus, OH. He later instructed student pilots at Randolph Field, TX.

He was transferred to Santiago, Chile, in 1940 and was a member of the U.S. Military Mission there for three years. He returned to MacDill Field, FL, for six months and in June 1943 was transferred to the European Theater of Operations. In January 1944 Colonel Kelly became Commander of the 386th Bomb Group (Medium), 9th Air Force; a B-26 medium bomber unit. While under Kelly's command, the Group attained the highest record of any B-26 unit in the ETO in the number of successful sorties flown; tonnage of bombs dispatched; and enemy aircraft destroyed, while at the same time maintaining the highest bombing accuracy score.

Upon Kelly's departure from the Group, he received this commendation from his Division Commander:

"I commend you particularly for your aggressive leadership while commanding the 386th Bombardment Group (M). This aggressive leadership, together with your efficient administration of the group, was directly responsible for its receiving a unit citation awarded for compiling the outstanding record made by any medium bombardment group during its first year of operations in this theater."

Kelly remained in Europe in command and staff positions until December 1944, when he returned to West Point as Director of Aviation.

He enrolled in the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, in the summer of 1946. After graduation, he was an Instructor and then Chief of Plans and Operations Division.

In January 1948, he began a 5½ year association with the Strategic Air Command, commanding various SAC bomber units including the Far East Air Forces Bomber Command at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

In 1953, he was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington as Director of Legislative Liaison. In this position he was responsible for development of public laws affecting the Air Force and for furthering Air Force relations with Congress. For his exceptional service in this position Kelly was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Air Force James Douglas.

On 21 July 1958, Kelly assumed Command of the Air Proving Ground Center at Eglin Air Force Base, FL.

In 1960, Kelly became Commander, Military Air Transport Service (MATS). He was Commander at the time MATS was transitioning to jet aircraft. In 1961 he personally piloted the first jet aircraft assigned to MATS on its maiden voyage from the Boeing factory at Renton, WA, to MATS Eastern Transport Air Force at McGuire Air Force Base, NJ. When Kelly was promoted to the four-star rank of General on 6 June 1963, he became the first four-star Commander of MATS.

During Kelly's time as Commander, MATS was involved in Operation Deep Freeze; the Cuban Missile Crisis; and the Congo Airlift. During his tenure, he compiled nearly 1,700 hours in the air from inspecting units.

General Kelly retired from the Air Force on 18 July 1964.

Medals and Awards

Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (10 Awards)
Army Commendation Ribbon
Belgian Croix de Guerre
French Croix de Guerre
British Distinguished Service Order
Chilean Legion of Merit

He was rated as a Command Pilot and his service totaled nearly 9,700 flying hours.


For his interest in, and support of, the Air Reserve Forces, General Kelly was chosen for the Minuteman Hall of Fame Award for 1962 by the Reserve Officers Association.

Death and Burial

General Joe William Kelly died on 8 July 1979. He is buried at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, FL, in Plot 33, 450.

Honoree ID: 758   Created by: MHOH




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