Colin Kelly

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Colin Kelly
Colin Kelly.jpg
Painted in 1942 by Deane Keller
Born July 11, 1915 (1915-07-11)
Madison, Florida
Died December 10, 1941(1941-12-10) (aged 26)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Air Corps
Years of service 1937 - 1941
Rank Captain
Unit 14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. (/ˈkln/; July 11, 1915 – December 10, 1941) was a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who flew bombing runs against the Japanese navy in the first days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as one of the first American heroes of the war for sacrificing his own life to save his crew when his plane became the first American B-17 to be shot down in combat.


Kelly was born in Madison, Florida in 1915 and graduated from high school there in 1932. He went on to West Point in 1933, graduated in the Class of 1937, and was assigned to a B-17 bomber group. He was the first Army officer to fly the Boeing Flying Fortress in the Far East.[1]


On December 10, 1941, Kelly's B-17C, USAAF 40-2045, (19th BG / 30th BS), took off from Clark Field in the Philippines. During its bombing run, with Sergent Meyer Levin as bombardier, Kelly's plane slightly damaged the Japanese cruiser Natori.[2] On its return flight, the bomber was then engaged by the Tainan Air Group A6Ms which had been patrolling over Vigan. They attacked it, followed it, and attacked again. At last near Clark Field it began to burn, and Kelly ordered his crew to bail out; the aircraft then blew up, killing him. The attackers did not see this, and initially were credited only with a probable "kill", shared jointly by Toyoda, Yamagami, Kikuchi, Nozawa, and Izumi. Saburo Sakai, who has often been credited with destroying this aircraft, was indeed a Shotai leader engaged in this fight with the bomber, but he and his two wingmen do not appear to have been given official credit for its despatch.[3]

Early reports misidentified the Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara, which was present, as the battleship Haruna, which was not, and also mistakenly reported that Kelly had crashed his plane into the smokestack of Haruna, becoming the first suicide pilot of the war. Many reputable publications, including Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, continue to report that Kelly bombed and sank the Japanese battleship Haruna or the cruiser Natori or the Ashigara, and that the date of the bombing was December 9, 1941, and not December 10. Although initial reports were that the ship was sunk and Kelly's crew claimed the ship was heavily damaged, the Natori was, in fact, only lightly damaged.[4][5]


For his extraordinary heroism and selfless bravery, Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Kelly had earlier in peace time also been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[6]

Aviation artist Robert Taylor painted a picture entitled The Legend of Colin Kelly.[citation needed]

In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Colin P. Kelly, Jr. was named in his honor.[citation needed]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter, "To the President of the United States of America in 1956" asking for an appointment for Kelly's infant son. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored the request and appointed Colin P. Kelly III, who graduated from West Point in 1963.[7]

Colin P. Kelly Jr. Street in San Francisco, near AT&T Park, is named in his honor in 1942. The street had previously been named Japan Street. Colin Kelly Dr. in Dayton, OH, is one of many streets near Wright Patterson Air Force Base named to honor Air Force heroes. Colin Kelly Drive in Forest Acres, SC, is also named in his honor, as is Colin Kelly Street in Cranford, NJ.[7]

The patriotic song There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere by Paul Roberts and Shelby Darnell (recorded by Elton Britt) places Colin Kelly alongside other legendary Americans in the line "I'll see Lincoln, Custer, Washington, and Perry, / Nathan Hale, and Colin Kelly too".[citation needed]

The "Four Freedoms Monument" and Colin Kelly Highway, both in Madison, Florida, are dedicated in his honor.[citation needed]

Colin Kelly Middle School in Eugene, Oregon, was named in his honor in 1945 by the school's first students, who preferred an "ordinary Joe" as a namesake, rather than prestigious military or political figures. The school colors are kelly green and white, and the nickname is "Bombers." In 2013, the nickname was changed to "Pilots."[citation needed]

Colin P. Kelly Elementary School in Compton, California, is named in his honor.[citation needed]


  1. "Congressional Record - 106th Congress (1999-2000) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Imperial Cruisers".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Shores, Cull and Izawa 1992, pp. 182.
  4. Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc. (1981), p. 551
  5. "Colin Kelly, USAAC, kia 10 Dec. '41".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Valor awards for Colin Purdie Kelly , Jr".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Clark 2014, pp. 191.


  • Burton, John (2006). Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor. US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-096-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Clark, James (2014). A Concise History of Florida. The History Press. ISBN 978-1626196186.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shores, Christopher; Cull, Brian; Izawa, Yasuho (1992). Bloody Shambles: Volume One: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore. London: Grub Street. ISBN 0-948817-50-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links