Staff Sergeant Jonah E. Kelley, USA (January 30-31, 1945)

Jonah Edward Kelley was born in Rada, West Virginia on April 13, 1923. He was living in Keyser, West Virginia when he entered the United States Army in 1943. Kelley fought in the European Theater of World War II with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division.

The Second Battle of Kesternich, Germany was launched by the 311th Infantry on January 30, 1945. Over two days of intense combat, Staff Sergeant Kelley led his squad in vicious house-to-house fighting and remained at the front of his men despite suffering multiple wounds. His last act was to silence the Nazi machine gun whose fire mortally wounded him. The 21-year old West Virginian was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in September, 1945.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*KELLEY, JONAH E.

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 311th Infantry, 78th Infantry Division. Place and date: Kesternich, Germany, 30-31 January 1945. Entered service at: Keyser, W. Va. G.O. No.: 77, 10 September 1945

Citation: In charge of the leading squad of Company E, he heroically spearheaded the attack in furious house-to-house fighting. Early on 30 January, he led his men through intense mortar and small arms fire in repeated assaults on barricaded houses. Although twice wounded, once when struck in the back, the second time when a mortar shell fragment passed through his left hand and rendered it practically useless, he refused to withdraw and continued to lead his squad after hasty dressings had been applied. His serious wounds forced him to fire his rifle with 1 hand, resting it on rubble or over his left forearm. To blast his way forward with hand grenades, he set aside his rifle to pull the pins with his teeth while grasping the missiles with his good hand. Despite these handicaps, he created tremendous havoc in the enemy ranks. He rushed l house, killing 3 of the enemy and clearing the way for his squad to advance. On approaching the next house, he was fired upon from an upstairs window. He killed the sniper with a single shot and similarly accounted for another enemy soldier who ran from the cellar of the house. As darkness came, he assigned his men to defensive positions, never leaving them to seek medical attention. At dawn the next day, the squad resumed the attack, advancing to a point where heavy automatic and small arms fire stalled them. Despite his wounds, S/Sgt. Kelley moved out alone, located an enemy gunner dug in under a haystack and killed him with rifle fire. He returned to his men and found that a German machine gun, from a well-protected position in a neighboring house, still held up the advance. Ordering the squad to remain in comparatively safe positions, he valiantly dashed into the open and attacked the position single-handedly through a hail of bullets. He was hit several times and fell to his knees when within 25 yards of his objective; but he summoned his waning strength and emptied his rifle into the machinegun nest, silencing the weapon before he died. The superb courage, aggressiveness, and utter disregard for his own safety displayed by S/Sgt. Kelley inspired the men he led and enabled them to penetrate the last line of defense held by the enemy in the village of Kesternich .

Kelley’s remains were repatriated to the United States after the war and were laid to their final rest in the Queens Meadow Point Cemetery in Keyser.

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