Three generations celebrate Army birthday and its 240-year history

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Greetings from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s and our soldiers’ professional organization.

For all of us in and around our Army, there is no doubt we are all busy keeping pace with the events of a modern world.

This year we celebrate the Army’s 240th birthday.

Celebrating the Army’s birthday is not much different than celebrating our own.

Birthdays are a time to reflect on our life – where we have been, where we are now and what lies ahead.

I had the opportunity to celebrate the Army birthday twice this year with soldiers and their families, first at Fort Drum, N.Y., and then at Camp Parks in Pleasanton, Calif.

From East Coast to West Coast, soldiers and their families came together to reflect on where our Army has taken us, all the places where our nation has put boots on the ground, and to think about our role in safeguarding our nation and defending our allies in the future.

At these two celebrations there were the "old soldiers" of generations past, present day soldiers wearing their dress uniforms with pride, ROTC cadets and future soldiers who had just taken the oath of enlistment.

Three generations of Americans and their families came together to celebrate our Army’s and our Nation’s history.

The story of Staff Sgt. Jonah Edward Kelley is one that transcends all three of these generations.

Eddie Kelley, as he was known to his family and friends, was born in 1923 in Rada, West Va.

He graduated from high school in 1941 in nearby Keiser and then attended Potomac State College until he was drafted in 1943.

World War II was well underway and our nation was growing and equipping our Army as quickly as possible.

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the United States Army ranked 17th in the world in the size and combat power with 190,000 soldiers – just behind Romania.

Between 1940 and 1945, the Army would grow to 8.3 million.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hitler immediately declared war on the United States.

In comparison, Hitler’s Army consisted of approximately 300 divisions, Japan with 100 divisions and the Soviet Union with another 400 divisions.

The United States Army had only one division fully manned with another 30 divisions at various stages of preparedness.

Knowing approximately 50 percent of the soldiers in our units today are officers and noncommissioned officers, the need for leaders during this period of growth was without question.

Private Kelley was assigned to the newly formed 78th "Lightning" Division, where he rose immediately to the rank of sergeant.

Kelley could read and write, and given his participation in sports and the boy scouts as a young man, he was a natural leader.

The 78th was assigned as a training division to Camp Butner, N.C., for the next two years.

The role of a training division is to train, equip and prepare new recruits and units for service in combat

In a letter Kelley wrote to his friend Harry Thomas while he was stationed at Camp Butner on June 7, 1943, he talked about his squad leader being away for a week and how he had to take charge and train the 12 men in his squad.

Kelley talked about the challenges of teaching them while he was just learning himself.

This is leadership.

He did not back away from the task at hand, he accepted the responsibility to get it done.

After two years as a training division, the 78th sailed for England on October 14, 1944, and crossed into France on Nov. 22.

Once in France, the division moved east to Belgium where it became engaged in the Battle for the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge.

While the Battle of the Bulge officially ended on January 25, 1945, the 78th Division continued its fight pushing eastward into Germany.

On January 30, 1945, just across the Belgium border in the German town of Kesternich, Staff Sgt. Kelley led his squad through intense house-to-house fighting.

Through these assaults Kelley was wounded twice; one of the wounds disabled his left hand.

Declining medical evacuation, Kelley chose to stay and lead his squad.

The following day with his squad pinned down by multiple enemy positions, Kelley single-handedly charged and destroyed the first enemy position, and was subsequently killed assaulting the second.

For these actions Staff Sgt. Jonah Edward Kelley was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor on September 10, 1945.

Kelley’s actions as a leader in training and in combat touched each of the men in his squad, his unit and their families.

After World War II, the U.S. Army occupied many small military bases – called kasernes – across Germany to begin rebuilding the nation.

Since 1952, a small kaserne in the city of Stuttgart, Germany, that we know today as Kelley Barracks, has been home to thousands of service members assigned to Europe.

There on the kaserne is a memorial paying tribute to Kelley with his photo and his Medal of Honor citation.

For more than 60 years, Kelley has continued to touch the service members of our nation who spend two to three years or more working and living on that kaserne as part of their tour of duty.

Today is no different. Kelley Barracks is home to the United States Africa Command.

Over the last 60 years, it was those Americans living on Kelley Barracks and on all the military bases in Germany and Western Europe that helped rebuild and foster democratic societies that serve the people who live there.

This created an environment that brought down the Iron Curtain on November 9, 1989, and fueled the incredible transformation of Eastern Europe that followed.

Today, countries like Hungry, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia and many others are all democracies. They are our allies and friends.

Reflecting on the life of Eddie Kelley, the small town, average kid who was a good student, a good citizen, an athlete, a boy scout, a Christian and a patriot, continues to inspire the youth of his community and our nation.

For Eddie Kelley, it was his parents, teachers, coaches, ministers and civic leaders who served as role models for a life well lived.

It was the academic lessons in school that gave him a foundation to continue to learn outside the classroom.

It was the love he gained from the people of his community that spurred him to risk and ultimately sacrifice himself for others.

In this age of reality television and gossip magazines, the next generation of Eddie Kelley’s will still need those role models to nurture our future leaders.

So this year we say Happy 240th Birthday to the U.S. Army.

And today we say "thank you" to our community role models.

Now more than ever America’s Army needs AUSA and AUSA needs your membership support.

Membership is the volume knob to ensure your voice is amplified many times over and heard throughout the halls of Congress, from sea to shining sea across this country, and throughout every small town and community in-between.


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