Medal of Honor recipient remembered on 75th anniversary of D-Day
By Tyler Dague Meadville Tribune
It was the largest seaborne invasion ever launched, before or since. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 American, Canadian and British troops made the dangerous journey to take the beaches of Normandy, France, from German occupation.
Thousands lost their lives during that fateful turn in World War II, but D-Day, which marks its 75th anniversary today, was a day of heroic action and sacrifice.
In acknowledgement of the bravery of the military forces who risked their lives and the 13 Medal of Honor recipients of D-Day, Allegheny College and First Presbyterian Church in Meadville will ring their bells 13 times at 2 p.m. in a moment of gratitude.
One of those 13 medalists was from Crawford County. Cpl. John D. Kelly, a native of Venango Township, earned the Medal of Honor for his service during Operation Overlord, of which D-Day was one part.
Kelly’s unit was pinned by heavy machine gun fire from a “deeply entrenched strongpoint on the slope leading up to the fort” near Cherbourg, France, on June 25, 1944, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum’s database. Armed with a pole charge, which was about 10 feet long with 15 pounds of explosives affixed, he dodged German bullets and placed the charge at the foot of the strongpoint.
The first blast failed, and he volunteered a second time to get a pole charge to connect, which blew off the ends of the enemy machine guns. Kelly braved the slope a third time to put a pole charge at the rear entrance of the strongpoint. When the entrance was opened, he deployed hand grenades inside and forced the enemy guncrews to surrender.
He eventually became a technical sergeant and was killed in action five months later. Kelly was posthumously awarded the medal in 1945. A framed portrait of Kelly and a copy of the citation given for his medal hangs in the Crawford County Courthouse.
The bell ceremony was spearheaded by the National Medal of Honor Museum. Museum CEO Joe Daniels said the organization reached out to each of the cities and towns where the 13 medal recipients lived.
“I think that Cpl. Kelly’s story is probably one of many that the rest of America doesn’t know,” Daniels said. “But by him earning that medal, selflessly exposing himself to hostile fire to destroy an enemy encampment, allows us to recognize the bigger sacrifice.”
Cliff Willis, director of major capital projects at Allegheny College and a military veteran, told the Tribune the ceremony holds special significance for him. Willis is a West Point graduate and served in active duty. His father-in-law was the acting battalion commander for the first tank battalion to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day.
“Allegheny College has a rich history of having alums who have served the country,” Willis said. “The college, as a whole, should be proud of this and the fact that a Crawford County resident was awarded the Medal of Honor. The small number who has received it is pretty indicative of the extraordinary actions that are needed to qualify for the award. People should remember that and feel thankful for these people.”
Daniels remarked that Americans’ ability to come together during extremely fraught times was “part of our DNA” and heard similarrecollections of the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Daniels served for over a decade as the president of the 9/11 Museum in New York.
“Ultimately, the message of our museum and of this tribute on D-Day is that America’s been around for 243-plus years,” Daniels said. “There is simply no guarantee that this great experiment gets to continue forever. What it takes for it to actually continue is people sacrificing for their country, whether that’s in the military or through public service or just upholding the values of what it means to be an American. It actually takes effort.”
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.