The keynote speakers for the 1997 DUSTOFF Association Reunion were the children of Charles Kelly. Their comments are presented here for those of you unable to attend the 18th Annual DUSTOFF Reunion.
Good evening, I'm Charles Kelly, Jr. and these are my sisters, Barbara and Carol. We are the children of Major Charles Kelly. This is our first DUSTOFF reunion and we are very happy to be here. Since 1 July 1964, the Army, Army Aviation Association, and especially the DUSTOFF Association has been very good to our family. We have met a few of you here in the last couple of days, but I feel like we know all of you. I feel like we are here with family.
My father was a catalyst and an innovator in the development of Army air medical evacuation. He devoted several years of training toward this mission, and he completely devoted the last six months of his life in this endeavor. Ultimately he gave up his life for this mission. He knew the risks of this mission.
I talked with Bob Mack last night. He flew with my father daily and was the one who went to my father's room to collect his personal belongings when he was killed. He said he walked into the room and on a desk, in plain view, not hidden away in a drawer, but laid out very neatly was a packet of information on what to do if he was killed. Bob said it was like he knew he would be killed. My father was 39 and had three children and a wife at home when he volunteered to go to Vietnam. I am convinced that he took those risks because he understood the importance of what he was doing and what it might mean to thousands of people.
Over the last two months, I have read literally hundreds of pages of letters and diaries from Korea and Vietnam that my father wrote. I think I have a pretty good idea of what he would say if he were here today. He would say, "Don't call me a hero, just a soldier who did my duty to the best of my ability to honor my country and family." He would give the credit to his men and those that came before him and those that cam after him and carried on the tradition that he began. Well, the fact is, he could not have done this alone. He was the first medical evacuation casualty ever. He set many of the standards and was a proponent of night flying, and he fought the generals for the right to fly anytime and anywhere.
At one point, General Stillwell wanted to have portable red crosses and just put them in general service aircraft who they were needed. My father was vehemently opposed to this and eventually won this battle. If he had not, there would probably be no DUSTOFF today. but all of this would have been for nothing if others had not carried on after he was killed. I want to thank you for continuing and building upon the DUSTOFF tradition.
I consider the people in this room to be true American heroes. I can think of no nobler cause than to risk one's life to save someone else. And that's what DUSTOFF pilots do for a living, day and night, anytime, anywhere. To you active duty pilots and medics (I know you know this or you would not be here, but I am going to say it anyway), when you are in the air and there is someone hurt or sick on the ground, whether they are soldier or civilian, you are it, you become life itself to them, the only thing that stands between life and death. You should be proud. Your families should be proud of you, and I can assure you of this, the Kelly family is very, very proud of you.
My family would like to take this opportunity to give something back to the DUSTOFF Association. My sister has put countless hours into this project, and we are very proud of what she has done. If you would unveil the portrait please (sisters Barbara and Carol unveil the portrait of Major Kelly). This is our father, Major Charles L. Kelly.
One more thing, our family especially wants to thank General Patrick Brady. He carried on the tradition of my father and kept his memory alive. He has been a very good friend to our family over the past several year. It's been 33 years since Charles Kelly gave an order to Patrick Brady. So, General Brady... Front and Center! We have something special for you. (General Brady approaches, we shake hands, and my sister says a few words and unveils the protrait of him. Brady has tears in his eyes and cannot speak.)