Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Thomas

Last Name: Kelley

Birthplace: Boston, MA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Home of Record: Boston, MA
Middle Name: Gunning

Date of Birth: 13 May 1939

Rank or Rate: Captain

Years Served: 1960-1990
Thomas Gunning Kelley

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Thomas Gunning Kelley
Captain, U.S. Navy
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Captain Thomas Gunning Kelley is a former U.S. Navy officer who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. From 2003 to 2011 he served as Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services.

Thomas Gunning Kelley was born on 13 May 1939, in Boston, MA. He is a graduate of Boston College High School, Class of 1956, and the College of the Holy Cross, Class of 1960.

Kelley later joined the Navy at Boston. He served in Vietnam as a Lieutenant in command of River Assault Division 152, part of the Mobile Riverine Force. On 15 June 1969, he led eight boats on a mission to extract a U.S. Army infantry company from the bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province, South Vietnam. During the extraction, the convoy came under attack from a hostile force on the opposite bank and one of the boats suffered a mechanical failure which prevented it from raising its loading ramp and getting under way. After ordering the other boats to form a defensive line around the disabled craft, Kelley maneuvered his own boat to the front, between his men and the enemy, and engaged the hostile force. He received a severe head wound when a rocket struck near him, penetrating the boat's armor and spraying shrapnel in all directions. Although unable to stand or speak clearly, he continued to relay directions to the convoy, with the help of one of his sailors, until the crippled boat was repaired and the group was able to move out. Kelley survived his wounds and was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Commander and awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.

Medal of Honor

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in the afternoon while serving as commander of River Assault Division 152 during combat operations against enemy aggressor forces. Lt. Comdr. (then Lt.) Kelley was in charge of a column of 8 river assault craft which were extracting 1 company of U.S. Army infantry troops on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province, when 1 of the armored troop carriers reported a mechanical failure of a loading ramp. At approximately the same time, Viet Cong forces opened fire from the opposite bank of the canal. After issuing orders for the crippled troop carrier to raise its ramp manually, and for the remaining boats to form a protective cordon around the disabled craft, Lt. Comdr. Kelley realizing the extreme danger to his column and its inability to clear the ambush site until the crippled unit was repaired, boldly maneuvered the monitor in which he was embarked to the exposed side of the protective cordon in direct line with the enemy's fire, and ordered the monitor to commence firing. Suddenly, an enemy rocket scored a direct hit on the coxswain's flat, the shell penetrating the thick armor plate, and the explosion spraying shrapnel in all directions. Sustaining serious head wounds from the blast, which hurled him to the deck of the monitor, Lt. Cmdr. Kelley disregarded his severe injuries and attempted to continue directing the other boats. Although unable to move from the deck or to speak clearly into the radio, he succeeded in relaying his commands through 1 of his men until the enemy attack was silenced and the boats were able to move to an area of safety. Lt. Comdr. Kelley's brilliant leadership, bold initiative, and resolute determination served to inspire his men and provide the impetus needed to carry out the mission after he was medically evacuated by helicopter. His extraordinary courage under fire, and his selfless devotion to duty sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Despite the loss of one eye during this action, Kelley requested to remain on active duty, and eventually retired with the rank of Captain in 1990.

Post-Military Service

After retirement from the Navy, Kelley worked as a civilian in the Department of Defense for several years before returning to Boston. He became commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services in April 1999 and was named Secretary of that department in August 2003. In December 2010, he retired from public service.

Honoree ID: 995   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image