View Full Version : He was a hero in legend and in fact

10-03-2004, 07:12 PM
On the morning of Dec. 10, 1941, six B-17Cs of the 14th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group, sat in the rain at a rough landing strip near San Marcelino on the Philippine island of Luzon. The crews had spent the night without food, sleeping in or under their planes. Of the war situation they knew little except that Japan had attacked Clark Field and other installations near Manila on Dec. 8--Pearl Harbor on the 7th--and some 400 Japanese aircraft had destroyed most of the US B-17s and pursuit planes.

Squadron Commander Maj. Emmett "Rosy" O'Donnell Jr., had flown to Clark before daylight to get orders for his squadron. He radioed his pilots to proceed to Clark at daybreak. Only three of the B-17s were allowed to land. They were flown by Capt. Colin P. Kelly Jr., and Lts. George E. Schaetzel and G. R. Montgomery. Captain Kelly, a 1937 graduate of the US Military Academy and a former B-17 instructor, was one of the most experienced and respected pilots of the 19th Bomb Group.

An imminent air attack sent the three bombers off to their respective targets before refueling and bomb loading were completed. Captain Kelly had only three 600-pound bombs aboard and orders to attack airfields on Formosa (Taiwan), some 500 miles north of Clark. The mission would earn Colin Kelly a place in American history and legend.

In the confusion of the early days of the Pacific war, Kelly was credited with sinking a Japanese battleship and with award of the Medal of Honor. Overnight he became a national hero. It later was determined that Kelly and his crew did not sink a battleship, nor was he awarded the Medal of Honor, although some still believe both. In fact, Colin Kelly was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the US Far East Air Forces. The award he received was the Distinguished Service Cross, on the orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters.

This is what actually happened, as told in mission debriefings by members of Kelly's crew and in an official report of the mission prepared in February 1942.

For Captain Kelly and his crew, it was a solo mission deep into territory where the Japanese held absolute air superiority. They had no fighter escort. By Dec. 10, there were only 22 flyable P-40s and a few obsolete P-35s left. As they flew north toward Formosa, Kelly and his crew passed over a large Japanese landing in progress at Aparri on the north coast of Luzon. The presence of an enemy carrier in the vicinity had also been reported.

Kelly radioed Clark Field for permission to attack the landing force, which was supported by several destroyers and a large warship, thought to be a battleship, bombarding the coast from several miles offshore. After two calls to Clark that brought only a response to stand by, Kelly told the crew they were going ahead on his decision to attack the battleship--actually a cruiser. Kelly made two dry runs at 20,000 feet, giving bombardier Sgt. Meyer Levin time to set up for an accurate drop.

On the third run, he told Levin to release the bombs in train. As best the crew could tell, two of the three bombs bracketed the ship with one direct hit. Smoke prevented more accurate assessment. The B-17 then headed for Clark Field, its bomb bay empty.

As it approached Clark, the bomber was hit by enemy fighters.

The first attack killed TSgt. William Delehanty, wounded Pfc. Robert Altman, and destroyed the instrument panel. A second attack set the left wing ablaze. The fire spread rapidly into the fuselage, filling the flight deck with smoke.

Captain Kelly ordered the crew to bail out while he still had control of the doomed bomber. Fire began to engulf the flight deck. SSgt. James Halkyard, Pfc. Willard Money, and Private Altman went out the rear. Navigator 2d Lt. Joe Bean and Sergeant Levin, after a time-consuming struggle, pried open a stuck escape hatch and took to their chutes.

The nose of the aircraft was now an inferno. Colin Kelly remained at the controls as copilot 2d Lt. Donald Robins moved to the upper escape hatch. At that moment, the bomber exploded, hurling a badly burned Robins clear of the aircraft.

The B-17 crashed about five miles from Clark Field. Colin Kelly's body was found at the site. The early report of his heroism, which inspired a nation in shock, is in no way diminished by the actual events of that December day in 1941. Alone and far from friendly territory, he attacked and damaged a heavily armed ship, then sacrificed his own life to save his crew.


Ran across this while doing some research and thought I would share.


10-03-2004, 09:07 PM
wow, sad, and great piece of history.



10-04-2004, 09:04 AM
Good find. Thanks.

10-04-2004, 09:40 AM
http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-surprised.gif http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-sad.gif

10-04-2004, 11:44 AM
What is even more sad about this story is that the American military heavily publicized the fictional version of Kelly dying while sinking a battleship as a propaganda tool. They knew it was false but they wanted to create a hero. That's why so many people believe it even today: The fictional version was repeated in many books and articles.

The US government said it (many times), so it must be true, right?

If this all sounds a bit like "Saving Private Jessica" in Iraq that's because that's exactly what it was. That highly publicized propoganda stunt "special operations" attack on an Iraqi hospital where there were no Iraqi soldiers to save a US soldier who was injured while running away and never fired a shot at the enemy was just as much BS as the military's version of the Colin Kelly story of WWII.

In Kelly's case, he really died while trying to save his arcraft. He hit a mountain. But the propoganda version has him diving his B-17 into a battleship. This story probably is the most enduring falsehood of WWII, at least on the US side.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


10-04-2004, 02:57 PM
Hey tttiger, I've got an idea. Why don't you refrain from hijacking this thread into something that haunts you in your (apparently) paranoid existence?

Yes, Kelly was used as propaganda during those dark opening days of the Pacific war. €œThat€ is certainly on subject and you should feel free to comment on it as much as you wish but please leave recent and current affairs out. I don€t really care or want to hear about your personal gripes with anything political or religious.


PS €" His crewmembers reported (the reason I posted this) that the B-17 exploded mid-air, crashing into the mountain is probably just another inaccuracy in one of the many versions of this story.

(edited for spelling, as I've heard that bothers tttiger)

10-04-2004, 03:27 PM
well, at least the U.S. admits to it. Do you know that according to Japanese history books, the Rape of Nanking never heppened, and that they treated captured Allied soldiers according to the Geneva Convention. this i 60 years later, and they still wont admit it. Also the russians still wont say how many men they lost during the war, they probably dont know.

10-04-2004, 05:23 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by AtorianPaladin:
well, at least the U.S. admits to it. Do you know that according to Japanese history books, the Rape of Nanking never heppened, and that they treated captured Allied soldiers according to the Geneva Convention. this i 60 years later, and they still wont admit it. Also the russians still wont say how many men they lost during the war, they probably dont know. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Yes I did know what was the point of your post ?

As far as the US admiting it sure ,you can shoot a man in the leg and then say 'oops' sorry we didn't mean it! But at the end of the day you still shot the bugger in the leg and he's still gona have a limp. An appology is not an absolution neither should it be treated as, or used as such.

I would not be so quick to praise a government of any country that so redily appologise's for it's mistake's after the damage has been done.

I have little knowledge of the exact events of Nanking other than it happend so I will not comment but it is a real shame you had to drag the Japanese pow situation into his conversation. However as it has been raised I will say this on the subject.

My grand father served as a Gordon Highlander and was captured by the japanese. The way he and his comrades were treated was indeed deplorable. However he did survive the experiance unlike many of his fellow prisoners and went on to serve for some time after the war including Suez, a conflict whose veterans have only recently recieved acknowledgement for by their own government!. To late for my granfather, who sadly did not live long enough for me to know him.

I do find the lack of repentance on the part of the japanese government somewhat distasteful but not suprising or shocking. My granfather according to my Mother bore no ill will toward the japanese people after the war and I doubt that an appology would have counted for much with him anyhow.

However that is the government and not the nation as a whole, I bear no individual japanese today any ill will for crimes comitted in a time of war which they themselves had no part in.

It is somewhat naieve to think that because a countries government refuses to admit to certain events taking place that therefore a whole nation is not aware of those events or that some form of mass denial is taking place. I assure you there are many japanese that are fully aware of the events that took place at that time despite what its government may say or prefer them to believe.

Those that took part in the events at the time know what happend and what their part was in it and it is for them to live with and remember.

10-04-2004, 07:26 PM

Great post. Thanks...

Saburo Sakai's autobiography has an account of the downing of Capt Clark's aircraft. I was reaching for the book, 'Samurai' just now, and then remembered that I recently loaned it to a friend.

Thanks for providing the U.S. aircrew version of events, as I had never seen them. I think both versions square with each other.

10-04-2004, 09:41 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by AtorianPaladin:
well, at least the U.S. admits to it. Do you know that according to Japanese history books, the Rape of Nanking never heppened, and that they treated captured Allied soldiers according to the Geneva Convention. this i 60 years later, and they still wont admit it. Also the russians still wont say how many men they lost during the war, they probably dont know. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Are you discussing the History Textbook pushed by conservative Hardliners in 2001? In Japan? This textbook did not include Japan's war atrocities. It drew a lot of criticism from other Asian countries and Japanese themselves. It did not deny the atrocities, just did not include them. However, you should read more into the story.

In Japan local school district authorites can decide what textbook to carry. The New History Textbook, as it was called, was not adopted by a single municipal government or state run junior high school.

Other textbooks may marginalize Japanese atrocities ( or it may not, never read them), but American autrocities, dirty little wars, etc are usually marginalized or not discussed in American textbooks too (since textbooks have to get approval from certain boards.) They have gotten better though. Every country does it, you don't try to teach your little kids about your country's dirty little secrets. Wait till they grow up.

Anyway that was an interesting post Limazulu, always surprising to hear about a B-17 hitting a moving target.

10-05-2004, 12:21 PM
Wow, LZ, I didn't realize anything in my post was "religious." However, if you wish to kneel and kiss my ring, you may http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

The IMPORTANT aspect of the Colin Kelly story isn't whether he did something brave. He did. It's a good story and worth sharing. Many, many people perform extraordinarily brave acts in combat (and, as a former combat soldier, I've personally seen it happen in two wars) and their stories are never told.

What is IMPORTANT, is that the government fabricated a story that never happened and millions of people believed it and still believe it.

And the Colin Kelly story is THE classic example of the military creating a hero who never did the things attributed to him. And they knew it was a lie when they said it. To ignore that aspect of the Colin Kelly story is to ignore the most significant part of it.

And the government still does it. And always will.

Is being skeptical about what politicians and bureaucrats tell us being "paranoid"? Is questioning the "official" version being "political"?

Maybe I'm wrong (it's happened once before http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif) but I've always been under the impression that starting a thread is inviting comment. When you ignore the most important lesson of the story, I believe that's worthy of comment.

If you don't want the comments, don't start the thread. The Colin Kelly story is more about propaganda than heroism and, based on the title of your thread, I think you know that.

And thanks for checking your spelling http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif