Charles L. Kelly was a United States Army helicopter pilot during The Vietnam War. Major Kelly was the Commanding Officer of the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) from 11 January 1964 until he was killed in action on 1 July of the same year while trying to evacuate a wounded American advisor along with several ARVN wounded. He is considered the founder of Dustoff.
Kelly was a legend in his own time, being called "Crazy Kelly," and "Mad Man," for his willingness to fly into danger to rescue the wounded. Kelly often flew missions at night, claiming that all the times he had been hit had been during daylight.
1 July 1964
Kelly was KIA on 1 July 1964 when, after being warned out of a "Hot" LZ, he replied with his famous last words, "When I have your wounded." A bullet entered through an open cargo door and pierced his heart. Kelly whispered "My God." His helicopter then landed sideways, its rotors beating into the ground. Major Charles L. Kelly became the 149'th American to die in Vietnam. After he was shot down, his men landed at the site of his crash and attempted to revive him to no avail. Ernie Sylvester, who was trained by Kelly, right out of flight school, flew his body to an aid station in hopes of a miracle. A lone bullet had pierced his heart and lodged in the frame of the aircraft. The following day, a Commander tossed the bullet on his desk in front of CPT. Patrick Henry Brady and asked if they were going to stop flying so aggressively. Brady picked up the bullet and replied, "we are going to keep flying exactly the way Kelly taught us to fly, without hesitation, anytime, anywhere." This determination to continue the mission as envisioned by Kelly was upheld throughout the Vietnam War and continues to this day. Brady served two tours in Vietnam as a medical evacuation pilot and on his second tour in 1968 was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Awards, Decorations and Honors
Kelly was posthumously awarded the US Army's Distinguished Service Cross. He was also awarded South Vietnam's Cross of Gallantry with Palm, and the National Order of Vietnam, Fifth Class, South Vietnam's highest award. Fort Rucker's Kelly Hall, in which Army Air Traffic Controllers were trained in the 1980s, is named in his honor.
Documentary Film Tribute
In 2002, the documentary film crew of In the Shadow of the Blade honored Kelly's story at their landing zone near Columbus, Georgia. After hearing the story of his father's courage from Vietnam Dustoff colleague Ernest Sylvester, Charles Kelly, Jr. flew in the left seat of the documentary's restored UH-1 Iroquois, emulating his father's wartime experience.
- Dorland, Peter; Nanney, James (1982). Dust Off: Army Aeromedical Evacuation in Vietnam. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History - United States Army.
- Lucas, Jim G. (April 22, 1964). "Night 'Copter Missions routine for 'Mad Man.'".
- Page on Kelly on The Virtual Wall
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