Monday, April 09, 2012

TFH 4/9: Lieutenant Robert Bolling Kelly, USN

Robert Bolling Kelly was born on June 9, 1913 in New York City and was a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1935. At the beginning of World War II, Kelly was the Executive Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three in the Philippines, and also commanded the individual torpedo boat PT-34.

On the night of April 8-9, 1942, PT-34 attacked the Japanese light cruiser Kuma. The cruiser was struck, but the torpedo was a dud. At the time, Kelly's PT boat was credited with sinking the cruiser. Regardless of whether or not they did, PT-34 under Kelly's command was a key factor in American and Filipino forces holding out in the Philippines for as long as they did. Kelly's courage and contribution was recognized by both the Navy and the Army with his receipt of both the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross, respectively.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

Navy Cross Citation:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Robert Bolling Kelly (NSN: 0-74949), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession and for extraordinary courage in combat, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Motor Torpedo Boat THIRTY-FOUR (PT-34) when that vessel in company with the U.S.S. PT-41 made an attack on a Japanese KUMA class light cruiser on the night of 8 - 9 April 1942. Despite extremely heavy shell fire opposition, and the fact that the cruiser was screened by four enemy destroyers, the PT-34 closed to three-hundred yard range and made two successful torpedo hits on the enemy cruiser, finally sinking her. Then, on the following morning in a narrow channel of Cebu Harbor, with three guns of the PT-34 out of action and a hole six feet across blown through her, Lieutenant Kelly maneuvered to save his boat from further direct hits from four attacking enemy dive bombers. He maintained fire against the enemy until all of his remaining guns were out of action, and with five of his crew of six killed or wounded, he beached his boat and, under continual strafing from the enemy, directed the removal of the wounded to a place of safety.

Distinguished Service Cross Citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieutenant Robert Bolling Kelly (NSN: 0-74949), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in action in the Mindanao Sea, Philippine Islands, on 8 and 9 April 1942. When the two vessels of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE (MTB-3) encountered hostile naval vessels on the night of 8 April, Lieutenant Kelly, Commanding the U.S.S. PT-34, moved his ship to the attack of an enemy cruiser. Although his vessel was illuminated by searchlights, under heavy fire, and in the known presence of a second enemy vessel, Lieutenant Kelly proceeded to within 400 yards of the hostile cruiser and delivered a torpedo attack which struck the vessel twice amidships and left it in a sinking condition. Again, on the morning of 9 April, when his ship was attacked by four enemy dive bombers, Lieutenant Kelly withstood the attack for half-an-hour, avoiding much of the hostile fire with his anti-aircraft machine guns so that one of the hostile planes was brought down. When his vessel became unseaworthy and all guns were disabled by hostile fire, he maneuvered his ship so that the survivors might be landed and courageously directed the removal of the dead and wounded to a place of safety remaining with his ship to the last.

Kelly also received two Silver Stars and the Legion of Merit for his World War II service. The efforts of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three in the defense of the Philippines was dramatized by Hollywood in the 1945 film They Were Expendable. The character based on Kelly, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Rusty Ryan, was played by the great John Wayne.

Robert Bolling Kelly retired from the United States Navy in 1961 with the rank of captain. He passed away as a result of pneumonia in January 1989 at the age of 75. He rests in peace with our Nation's most honored dead in Arlington National Cemetery.

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