Pearl Harbor survivor Charles Kelly, 97, inside his home in Monroe, Wis. I had the honor of photographing Charles more than once while working in Monroe. Hard to believe he survive three separate torpedo attacks on ships he served on during WWII, including an attack on the U.S.S Helena on Dec. 7, 1941.
Volunteering for the Navy straight off a Mississippi farm as a 20-year-old in 1937, Kelley began as a mess attendant in the ship kitchen. He would be promoted to cook, and was one popular man. "My favorite thing was roasting a turkey," he said. "Guys were always sticking their head to check on what I was doing." Stationed on the U.S.S. Helena when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, his ship took on damage but Kelley escaped unscathed.
His next ship was the U.S.S. Houston, which was also hit by a torpedo while at Guadalcanal. Kelley entered a life boat and was picked up by a nearby destroyer in short order.
As for the U.S.S. Helena, it was repaired and sent back out to see, with Kelley joining its ranks once again.
It would get hit a second time, however, and this time Kelley spent 72 hours in the water before he was rescued.
Sadly, even the times he got to enjoy the beauty of the ocean are tainted. "I would enjoy sitting on the ship's deck in the sunshine, taking in the view," he said. "One day while I was doing that, I looked over at the U.S.S. Juneau, which was cruising along off in the horizon, and then I saw it go down in a puff of smoke. It had been sunk by a torpedo." Today, despite the ordeals he's faced, Kelley said he's a big World War II history buff. "These days, they are some of my most vivid recollections," he said of his experiences.
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