By: John Cuddy – February 2018
We are from the same home town, Lawrence, Massachusetts, and he went to grade school with my father at St Patrick’s Grammar School, but I never had the chance to really talk to Major Rick Kelley U.S. Army-Retired until a few weeks ago.
The “tip of the spear” in the U.S. Military are our Army and Marine Infantrymen, they often call themselves 11 Bravo’s. A U.S. Marine Captain once told me that the only force that can take and hold ground, is the American infantrymen. As I listened to Major Kelley speak, I was drawn into the conversation by the respect he showed to an often maligned soldier, the American Draftee.
Having served in the comparatively better paid, “all volunteer military” myself, I had misconceptions of what the 1950-1960s era drafted U.S. soldier was like and how they lived, worked, and served our nation. Mr. Kelley cleared the air quickly, stating clearly that for the most part, the drafted American soldier served as well as the volunteer American soldier in his era.
He spoke equally as eloquently on the fighting ability of the native Vietnamese Montagnard tribesman. The U.S. Army Special Forces with whom Mr. Kelley served, thought so much of these fighters that they would go out on patrol with them, a handful of U.S. Special Forces troops fighting alongside 100 or more tribesmen. Today the largest population on these tribesmen outside of South East Asia, is in the State of North Carolina where many Special Forces Units are also based.
Originally serving in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, enlisting in 1959, after graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1958 and doing a year at Newman Prep in Boston. His first choice of service was the U.S. Navy, but decided on the U.S. Army as they would allow a 36 month initial enlistment. Rick Kelley was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) Class 1-66. And despite trying to avoid the Navy’s 48 month obligation, he ended up serving our nation for 21 years as both and officer and enlisted man. He was the “tip of the spear”, serving in the Infantry and Special Forces. While serving he earned a BA from University of Tampa, and also graduated from Suffolk Law School.
He was awarded the Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal, U.S. Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross with one Palm, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Civic Action Award, Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Major Kelley is qualified to wear the converted Ranger Tab, the Vietnam Jump Wings, and the U.S. Army’s Master Parachutist Wings, a rare qualification. According to the U.S. Army; “The Master Parachutist badge (with a star surrounded by a laurel wreath above the canopy) requires 65 jumps (night, combat equipment, mass tactical, as jumpmaster), 36 months on jump status and graduation from a Jumpmaster course”. Most of us, would not jump out of an aircraft once, let alone 65+ times, with Infantry gear on, and at night?
His career in the U.S. Army included two tours in Vietnam, a tour with the famed 82 Airborne, the 7th Special Forces Group; it was with the 7th Special Forces that Rick completed his first tour in Vietnam, serving on the border of Laos and Cambodia, where he worked with the Rhade Tribe in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He served in Japan with the 1st Special Forces, on Okinawa. He then completed his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Two of his later assignments were instructor duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, then his final tour with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Boston, Massachusetts.
After retiring from the U.S. Army, Rick practiced law for 33 years, while living in Andover with his wife Marilyn and his family. It is here that the story will continue next month, in the March issue of the Valley Patriot. Rick has been serving his fellow Veterans on the Board of Directors for the Northeast Veteran’s Outreach Center in Haverhill, Massachusetts since 1985.