Korean War Veteran Honored with Flight to D.C.
Almost 64 years ago and thousands of miles away from his Waterloo home, young U.S. Army Sergeant Edward “Bob” Kelley peered down his rifle barrel at a hazy tree line in front of him and the rest of the 27th “Wolfhounds” infantry regiment entrenched on a silent
September morning in the mountains of Kumhwa, Korea.
Suddenly, the hills before Kelley erupted as American fighter planes strafed the unseen enemy with napalm while artillery pounded the earth in front of Kelley’s advance line. During the chaos, an enemy mortar explosion wounded Kelley and two other squad members.
Eight days later, Kelley and his comrades, all of whom received Purple Hearts, were back on the front line.
“I’m terribly proud of the 27th,” Kelley recalls, his eyes watering at the memory. “I felt like a damned target, and I just lived for each minute.”
Last Monday, Kelley, 87, was recognized for his service in the “Forgotten War” by leaving his hometown once again aboard an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where he and other brave veterans from years past visited their war memorials in our nation’s capital.
The Honor Flight program out of St. Louis is part of a national effort that flies veterans free of charge to Washington, D.C.
Kelley was one of two Korean War vets among a group of 21 former service members, the rest having served in World War II.
National Honor Flight chapters have recently begun inviting Korean and Vietnam war veterans to visit the capitol.
Kelley served from 1951 through the end of 1952.
Kelley’s daughter, Kay Haudrich, accompanied him on his day-long tour of both the Korean War and World War II memorials in D.C., as well as other historic monuments such as Arlington National Cemetery. At every stop along the tour, active military members and tourists paused to salute Kelley and other veterans and also thank them for their service, according to Haudrich.
“It was amazing to see everyone line up (for Bob),” she said. “Everyone else can honor him for being a veteran, but I honor him for being my dad.”
Haudrich smiles when she refers to her father as “quiet strength.” Haudrich is one of five children by Kelley and his late wife, Rita.
“He’s a faith-based man who was called to serve his country and then came home to provide for his family,” she said. “He’s my hero because he’s my father.”
When Kelley landed at Lambert Airport late last Monday night, he was greeted not only by family and friends, but also other veterans and active military personnel standing alongside men and women from Waterloo’s VFW post, members of the VFW’s motorcycle brigade and local Boy Scouts. He was escorted down the concourse amidst bagpipes, soldiers standing at attention and countless strangers cheering for him.
“Never in my life have I seen anything so honorable as that,” said Butch Sparwasser, past commander of Waterloo VFW Post 6504. “There were well over 100 flags flying for him, and with everyone cheering, it was something that I wish my kids could see.”
Sparwasser, who helped organize Kelley’s Honor Flight, said he was pleased to now see Korean War veterans being recognized with Honor Flights for their service during the “Forgotten War.”
Honor Flights are currently booked about two years in advance.
“It took two years to make it happen (for Bob), but it was quite an honor to watch him and be there for him,” Sparwasser said.
When Kelley isn’t with his family or growing sugar cane to make his own molasses, he’s almost always helping at the VFW, where Sparwasser said Kelley never complains even though “sometimes he can hardly walk because of his hip (where he was wounded).”
Kelley, a soft-spoken man with a white mustache and thick glasses, simply smiled when he thought back to those harrowing days in Korea.
“I was just a lucky Irishman, I guess,” he said.