Kelly was born in 1925 in Aurora, Illinois during the Great Depression. As one of seven children, he said growing up he never realized they were poor. His family had a large garden and he recalls fond memories of rabbit hunting and fishing in the Fox River with his father. Toward the end of the Depression, Kelly vowed to serve his country after the horrific events of Pearl Harbor. At 17 years old and a senior in high school, his father encouraged him to graduate before enlisting. Keeping his word, he graduated before joining the Navy in July 1943.
Kelly was assigned to the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion attached to the Third Marine Division. He was deployed to several places, including: New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Guam. His battalion took care of wounded, unloaded ships, removed unexploded ammunition and created roads for transportation so troops could get to the frontlines.
After his service, Kelly attended Oregon State and Linn Benton Community College, where he earned an associate’s degree in Fire Science. He then joined the Corvallis Volunteer Fire Department and was later hired by the local Fire Department, where he worked his way up to Captain of Suppression and Fire Prevention. He later became the Assistant Chief Fire Marshall at the Oak Lodge Fire District, where he eventually retired.
Now at 95 years old, Kelly has overcome yet another incredible challenge. On March 17, he tested positive for the novel Coronavirus, Covid-19. Living with his family, including two young great grandchildren, Kelly had to remain quarantined to his room for two weeks. His granddaughter, Rose Etherington, was able to care for him. “There were a couple of days where he looked extremely ashen and I could tell he was slipping. He didn’t want to eat, so we had to really stay on top of him to eat and drink. I think he pulled through because he has a strong mind. He knew it wasn’t time. He wanted to be with the kids more.”
To everyone going through this difficult time, Kelly does have some advice.
“This too will pass, and maybe we’ll be better off. Do what you’re supposed to do. Just be a good, solid American. There’s a saying that I remember a friend used to say all the time: Fighters never quit, and quitters never fight. Just carry on.”.
NFM Lending is proud to donate $2,500 to The Gary Sinise Foundation on behalf of Kelly and his family. NFM looks forward to the opportunity to continue to honor military and Veterans through the NFM Salute initiative.
Full Transcript of Video Interview is Below:
– Hi, I’m Greg Sher. 95-year-old “Grandpa” Bill Kelly, he survived the Great Depression, he survived and fought in World War II, and, most recently, he survived Coronavirus. He’s also the recipient of our May NFM Salute. We welcome in “Grandpa” Bill Kelly from McMinnville, Oregon and his granddaughter, Rose, who was kind enough to set up this NFM Salute. Grandpa Kelly, thank you so much for your service.
– You’re certainly welcome, it was an honor.
– It’s our honor to have you here on NFM TV and to give you this NFM Salute for the month of May. I guess we’ll go in sequential order with all of the things that you have withstood. Let’s start with the Great Depression. What’s your memory of those times?
– Some people would say that we were poor, but us kids didn’t realize that too much. And I’ve gotta say that I was never hungry. Mom always provided. We had a house and we had a big lot close by which we owned, we had a garden. And in the winter time, why dad and I would go out rabbit hunting and shoot rabbits for food. Sometimes a squirrel, quail. Do a lot of fishing in the Fox River. We’d catch a lot of little spiny rays, little bluegills, and that sort of thing. And dad would spend half the night cleaning them, scaling them and that sort of thing, Yea and soak them in salt water and fry them the next day. So, we got along real well.
– Tell us what if was like then, at the end of the Great Depression, you started to have a yearning to serve your country. Right about the time it ended, Pearl Harbor was going on. Tell us about that moment in time and what it was like to serve.
– It was Sunday morning, December 7th, and about eight o’clock in the morning, the battleships were all lined up. About 6 of them side by side right up at the docks. They had church services on the deck in the morning, and the next thing you know, here came a bunch of dive bombers, but over a 100 or some of those sailors were still down below deck. Never had a chance to get out. So, that made us furious. No one sneaks up on us, and pulls stuff like that. It was in December, and January 1st, I would be 17 years old. So, with our parent’s permission, we were allowed to join the service, so I asked dad. I said, “Dad, I would like to join the Navy.”
– You ended up stationed and serving in Guam for 3 years. What’s your memory of those times?
– There was a lot of mess there. Lots of unexploded shells and this sort of thing. So, our job then was to get in there, try and get the ammunition that was unexploded out, get transportation so the troops could get up to the front, and take care of the wounded, unload ships, just things like that that had to be done. And the Guam people, Chamorros, they were all there, and they were so pleased with Uncle Sam coming back. And they had a little song. I’d like to sing just one verse for you.
– Please. He had all the little kids singing there, and they said, “December 7th, 1941, people went crazy nearly here on Guam. ♪ Oh, Uncle Sam, Sam, my dear Uncle Sam, ♪ ♪ oh won’t you please come back to Guam? ♪
– Bravo, so I want ask you about when you return to civilian life, because you had this experience serving, and you decided to continue a life of serving, as you became a fire chief. What was that experience like?
– After I was discharged, I had the opportunity to go to Oregon State and Linn Benton Community College, which I attended, and I got an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science, and in ’52, I was hired by the Fire Department, and worked my way up to Captain of Suppression and Fire Prevention. Then, I had the opportunity, and accepted a job as Assistant Chief Fire Marshall at the Oak Lodge Fire District, and I retired from there.
– Rose, thank you again for setting us up. Let’s shift focus to his latest challenge he overcame. That is, Coronavirus. When did you realize that Grandpa Kelly had it, and what was it like?
– He was here and on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17th, we found out that his test was positive. He in fact was the first positive test in our county. There were a couple of days where he looked extremely ashen, and I could tell he was slipping. He didn’t want to eat, so we had to really stay on top of him to eat and to drink. I think that he pulled through because he has a strong mind. I think he really just set his mind. He knew it wasn’t time. He wanted to be with the kids more.
– What advice do you have for other Americans right now that maybe have Covid, or are just struggling with all of the challenges they are facing right now, financially, employment-wise, and otherwise? _ Just be a good solid American, and there’s a saying, “Fighters never quit, and quitters never fight. Carry on.” Sounds like Winston Churchill.
– Well, that’s a great note to end on. Grandpa Kelly, we really appreciate your time, your service. We’re so happy that you’re doing better now, that you beat Coronavirus. It’s your latest obstacle that you’ve overcome. Continued health and prosperity. And also, your granddaughter, Rose, thank you for helping us arrange this, and for allowing us to feature Grandpa Kelly as May’s NFM Salute.
– My pleasure, thank you.
– My pleasure, too, thank you very much. God Bless.
– All right, we’ll see you again next time, thank you.