By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers
Date of birth: Sept. 14, 1918
Dates of service: 1942-1969 served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam
Hometown: Bellville, Kansas
Theater and location of service: Europe, based out of England
Branch: Army Air Force
Rank: Lieutenant colonel
Unit and Specialty: Fighter pilot, 376 Squadron in the 361st Group, Cambridge, England. Korea, 39th Cobra Squadron, 51st Fighter Group. Plekiu, Vietnam, “Hobos” 1st Air Commandos
After discharge: Clovis
In his own words: Piloting “Mirthless Myrt,” his P-51 Mustang named for an old girlfriend, Kelly “dealt death and destruction to the wily Hun” as he describes his time in Europe during World War II. The war began his career that lasted 27 years and three wars.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he said, “everybody joined up. I enlisted with the idea of becoming a pilot. It was a matter of desire — I didn’t want to be cannon fodder, I didn’t want to be artillery, I wanted to fly and I took every opportunity I had to succeed.
“I was among the first 200 jet pilots. We were the astronauts of the day.”
“Luckily, it was over England,” when the left wing came off his plane in mid-flight and Kelly faced his first and only bailout. When the wing separated from the plane, it knocked the canopy and his helmet off, injuring his head.
Following years of service, Kelly retired from Cannon in 1969.
As he puts it, this one-time fighter of the sky spends his time “doing nothing very slowly and getting better at it every day.
“I am very proud of what I did. My greatest claim to fame is that I survived.”
Date of birth: Jan. 1, 1925
Dates of service: 1944-1946
Lives in: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Europe, France, Germany and Belgium
Rank: Staff sergeant
Unit and specialty: 6th Armored Division, 3rd Army, under the command of Gen. George Patton
After discharge: House
In his own words: “We are going to take this crossing even if it takes a truck to haul the dog tags back.” These words of Gen. Patton still ring clearly in Mitchell’s ears more than 60 years later.
They were crossing the Rhine, preparing for a brutal confrontation, and the strong words from Patton were a comfort to the men who stood with Mitchell.
“We appreciated his leadership and knew he would protect us — it was just his way,” Mitchell said on the harshness of Patton’s style.
At one point, Mitchell and 12 other men become separated from their unit in the dead of winter. Encircled and behind enemy lines, they managed to survive on dwindling rations and food they found in an abandoned building.
Somehow, they escaped detection, moving mostly at night and staying hidden best as they could. Along the way, they captured two German prisoners and included them in their plans to rejoin their unit.
Desperation pushed the men as they crawled through the snow that final night until they reached their camp. Towing prisoners and armed with extensive intelligence regarding the enemy’s position, the men entered their camp as if resurrected.
Mitchell received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
“I was afraid but you just have to go on. You have a job to do, I guess that fear pushes (you). Some got killed because they shut down.”