Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Charles "Commando" Kelly

Chuck "Commando" Kelly, recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II, talks to Wallace about his financial troubles, unemployment, the Korean War, and nuclear weapons.

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Guest: Charles "Commando" Kelly

WALLACE: Good-evening. What you are about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: My guest tonight was a hero of the Second World War. You see him behind me. He's Commando Kelly, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, whose exploits included killing forty Germans within twenty minutes in the Battle of Salerno. We'll try to find out why Commando Kelly's wartime heroism has wound up for him in peacetime in repeated unemployment and public indifference. My guest's opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's, or my sponsor's, Philip Morris, Incorporated, but whether you agree or disagree we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast. We'll talk with Commando Kelly in just a moment.


WALLACE: And now, to our story. Congressional Medal of Honor winner Commando Kelly was called a 'one-man army' during the Second World War. A tough kid from the wrong side of the tracks, shy Charles "Commando" Kelly, in just one of his battles manned machine guns, rifles and an anti-tank gun in virtual single-handed defense of an ammunition dump and emerged unscratched. But in peacetime Commando's been hit hard by bad-luck, ill-health, and financial misfortune. Let's try to find out why Chuck Kelly has failed to reap the rewards of heroism. Commando, let me ask you this first of all: an article in last October's Saga magazine describes you this way, it says, "Kelly walks the streets of Louisville a lonely man, his friends don't add up to the fingers of one hand, his telephone is silent, there are no invitations to join clubs, speak at luncheons or march in parades, there is no rush to engage his services."

And as we said a moment ago, you have had some serious financial trouble too. Now your wife Betty told us over the phone this week, she said, "Chuck deserves a better deal from his country; he did something special as a soldier, and now he should get some kind of special consideration. "How do you feel about that?

KELLY: Well, we argue that point quite often; but I don't think that I deserve any more than any other G.I.; just because I won the Medal of Honor... don't make me a hero, it was just something that had to be done and I was one of the fortunate ones.

WALLACE: What do you mean?

KELLY: Well, there's a lot of boys in service who deserve the medal which never received it because nobody's seen what they did or nobody lived to tell what they did, and so, that is one of the reasons that a lot more of the boys haven't received them.

WALLACE: I think a good many people would agree that not all soldiers, not all veterans should get special treatment; but heroes, you feel, shouldn't get any special treatment, either?

KELLY: No, I don't. That's... my truth about it and my opinion.

WALLACE: Actually, Chuck, your fame as a hero did give you a good start in civilian life. You made, I'm told, about twenty thousand dollars on movie and magazine rights to your life -- your life story, that is. A good many prominent men advised you in business, you opened your¬self a gas station. Later you were offered other jobs, yet nothing's ever seemed really to work out for you financially. Now, do you know why it is that financially, business wise, things haven't seemed to work out for Chuck Kelly?

KELLY: Well, one of the biggest troubles is that if I have something, I always want to give it to somebody else. In other words, I'll give anybody the shirt of my back. And that's one of my biggest faults because I can't see anybody going hungry and if I've got a dollar I'll loan them half of it. And if I have to, I'll give it all to them.

WALLACE: Sounds like you'd be a fairly poor businessman. Are you a lazy businessman? Seriously...

KELLY: No, er... work never killed any man. I like to work and I put in long hours. But it's just the idea I'm soft-hearted. Very soft-hearted.

WALLACE: What are you working at now and, if I may ask this, how much do you earn?

KELLY: I make $340 a month. I'm an inspector or an engineer for the Kentucky State Highway Department. That's in the Materials Division.

WALLACE: Uh-hum. How did you happen to have wound up down there in Louisville working in Kentucky... your home is Pittsburgh, isn't it?

KELLY: Well, that's sort of a long story. When I left Pittsburgh, I went to Louisville to live. That was my wife's home-town. She wasn't satisfied with Louisville... or Pittsburgh at the time, so I moved down there. Well, when I went down there I didn't have a job, that's number one and I didn't go into the town and tell them who I was or anything. I just tried to find one, but it didn't turn out that way. I walked in as Chuck Kelly and tried to find work. There was no work, I walked out.

That went on for some time until my wife's uncle called me and I went to work for him. He gave me a job on the... as the... oh... an operator on one of the rollers. Well, that went on for some time until the outfit dissolved partnership, and I was out of work again. In the meantime my wife was in Pittsburgh and I was in Louisville, so I had to raise enough money to get her to Louisville. So I borrowed and finally I did get them down there but then I didn't have no work.

WALLACE: And I understand that 'Happy' Chandler, the Governor of Kentucky, came across with a job for you.

KELLY: Well, he came across a little later on, after he found out that I was in a difficulty.

WALLACE: Yes, but, I... we heard a good deal about that story around the country. I think perhaps some bad publicity, some untrue publicity that you'd been drinking too much, and that you hadn't really been taking care of yourself properly, and...

KELLY: No, it wasn't anything like that because at the time I was working, I was working for a contractor, painting houses. It was that's... my family was one place and I was another, and I just sort of got disgusted with it.

WALLACE: Well, that's understandable, a lot of us would feel this way. Chuck, in view of the country's comparative indifference toward you now, although you seem to want it that way, I would like to know your opinion of the sympathetic reception given to our guest of last week, the turncoat, the Korean War turncoat, David Hawkins. When he returned home from Red China to Oklahoma City, he was accepted back into his community, he was invited to speak publicly, given a good job. How do you think that we should treat U.S. Army turncoats?

KELLY: He's a human being... we should treat him the same as we treat any other G.I. In my opinion, I think the boy deserves it, he just got off on the wrong track. And I know for a fact when he went to Korea, he didn't know whether he was going to come back or he was going to stay there. So maybe he got a little scared when he was captured. Maybe he was pressured, tortured. I don't think it's the boy's own fault. No doubt at the time -- I never seen him or never met him -- No doubt he was young and he wasn't trained properly.

WALLACE: Trained in what sense? Trained to know what he was fighting for, or trained...

KELLY: Well, just the case like this: My brother went over there when he was 17 years of age, he had less than 13 weeks training, they had ten days furlough and he went right to Korea. Inside of two months he was missing. He never did come back. So a young kid hasn't had the proper training. He doesn't know what's going on. He don't know what to face. I think that the United States should have a longer training period for our boys, so they can combat and know what they're doing in combat.

WALLACE: I rather got the feeling from Dave Hawkins last week that he almost knew more about Red China than he knew about his own country. He said to us, though, he told us the difference between a hero like Commando Kelly and a turncoat is that a hero knows what's he fighting for and a turncoat doesn't. Does that make sense?

KELLY: Yes, it does. I have a lot to fight for.

WALLACE: In World War II -- You say you have a lot to fight for -- in World War II, did you have some real understanding of why you were there, what you were fighting for?

KELLY: Yes, I did. One of my brothers was in the Army quite some time and he told me about wars and what they are. I had a lot to fight for because I wanted to keep them over there; I didn't want them to come back home because I'm one of nine brothers and all of us were in the service. And then I had my mother and I figured if we can destroy their land instead of them destroying ours, we'd be better off. I had something to fight for because they started it, not us.

WALLACE: Do you feel that we should have been involved in Korea?

KELLY: No, I do not.

WALLACE: Why not?

KELLY: Well, it wasn't our war in the first place and we weren't prepared for it. In fact, I don't even think they call it a war yet. Here, the moving into in Korea... we had the atomic bomb. Why didn't we drop the atomic bomb and end it? Why should we send over our men to be slaughtered by a bunch of people that don't know right from wrong? Here they are. We helped them out during World War II, and what did they do to us? Stabbed us in the back. My opinion is if all wars... if they're going to start, end them in a hurry because some day the world is going to come to an end by fire. If this is it, let it come. If not, don't prolong it.

WALLACE: You believe that atomic weapons should be used... hydrogen bomb, you feel it should be used?

KELLY: In my opinion, to save the boys of our country, yes.

WALLACE: But isn't it perfectly sensible that if we use a hydrogen bomb on our enemy, our enemy will use it against us too and just blow up the world, Chuck?

KELLY: Well, that's the trouble with the United States. Like the United States is so big-hearted they give our secrets away. Everything that we have every country knows about it. Do we know what Russia has? Do we know what Red China has? No.

WALLACE: Chuck, do you regard Russia as our enemy? Do you hate Russia and the Russians?

KELLY: No, I don't. I think it's a smart country. The only thing is, we just got to watch them. I don't say Italy is our enemy, although I did fight them. I don't... think the same thing about Germany. I fought them and I have no hard feelings. All my hard feelings are behind me.

WALLACE: Let's get off on another tack if we may. From time to time you hear... I've heard this, as I'm sure you have, many times: There are no atheists in the trenches. Are you an especially religious man? Were you a religious man during World War II, Chuck?

KELLY: No. In World War II, I think I was about the same as anybody else. No better, no worse. But, as I've said before, when I got into combat, I was there for one purpose: to win the war and get back home. And that's what I was trying to do.

WALLACE: And as for religion you didn't call upon any supreme being to help you? This didn't particularly cross your mind while you were fighting?

KELLY: Well, during the battles, no. But before battles and after battles were over, I don't think there was a man on the front line that didn't say a prayer or have the Lord in his mind.

WALLACE: I ask this question of you quite seriously, Chuck. Did you ever enjoy the killing? Now, for instance, you were reputed, in the Battle of Salerno, to have killed forty men in twenty minutes. Did you ever get any real satisfaction out of killing another man or another group of men?

KELLY: That group of men, yes. When I was sitting on the front line with your buddies, just waiting for the attack, when you see your buddies being cut down, screaming for help, and you can't help them, blood running out of them, the rest of the men pinned down that they can't move you sort of get an urge. Well, I got that urge and I took off. I went back and I got the forty Germans. And I'm... never sorry for it... but I had the urge to kill and I killed. It was just one of the things. We didn't want to do it but we did it anyhow.

WALLACE: Did you feel any sense of satisfaction in that killing?

KELLY: Yes, I did a lot. For the simple reason after that little job was done, we had peace and quiet, we could take care of our own men, we could take them out of the front lines back into our village where they got proper treatment and everything was quiet, we could sit around and talk for a few minutes about what was goning to happen, although we couldn't go too far because we were surrounded. We had the Germans in front of us, on the side of us, and on the rear of us. We couldn't go anywhere because all we had was one little town and one little hill, so the satisfaction in me getting them, I think at that time I had a great deal.

WALLACE: Let me read to you from the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The hero, a German soldier has just killed a French soldier. He kneels beside the Frenchman's body and he says, "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. Now for the first time I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are just poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying, and the same agony." Did you ever feel like that, Chuck?

KELLY: No. I lost that fear the first day. The fear when I lost it, I'd seen an American medic treat a German soldier and after he got done treatment, another German shot him in the head.

WALLACE: And that cured you of any feeling...

KELLY: That's right.

WALLACE: ...of remorse? Do you ever have any desire now to go back to places like Salerno or the places where... where you did your job?

KELLY: Nope, I have not lost anything over there. That's their country they can keep it, I never want to see it.

WALLACE: You say that almost with an edge in your voice, as though you don't have a good deal of respect for them.

KELLY: I didn't at the time because when we landed at Salerno, as you know on September the 8th, Italy had surrendered. September 9th, we hit the beaches. They were ringing the church bells, they were puttin' out land mines, they'd surrendered, but we were still fightin' them. We tried to take the towns and this little population we asked them where the Germans were. "They left two or three days ago," but behind every door there was another German, just waiting. They couldn't be frank with me, I didn't have no pity for anything, because the simple thing is once we got in a town and got beyond it, they'd come out of the buildings and we were trapped by the way out.

WALLACE: Let's talk now about some secondary aspects of war, the military operation or the military machine. You used to be active in the American Legion and veterans' clubs, but I understand you are no longer active. How come?

KELLY: Well, to a certain extent as all the American Legion and VFW ended up as drinking parties, and I just sort of got away from it. Back in Pittsburgh, they were changing over so many fights and everything else that a man with six kids can't go to them places any more, I usually stay at home.

WALLACE: You do. You feel really that that is the main... the main purpose of the Legion and the VFW?

KELLY: Well, the ones that I belonged to, yes.

WALLACE: We talked with a State Commander, a Harold Dawdson, Kentucky State Commander, he said the Legion works for veterans' legislation, for athletic and social activities for youngsters, for good citizenship in our communities. He said, "I spend forty voluntary hours a week in this work, and wish I had more time to spend." What's your reaction to that statement?

KELLY: Well, you figure on the size of the towns too. The less post you have, the better chance the Legion and the VFW has of doing good. But you get into a big city where you have five and six posts right in a certain area, they only got it for beer license and as all they had was parties and dances, and to be active, the club I belonged to, you couldn't even get them out for a funeral.

WALLACE: Let's get your opinion on the work the Red Cross does for American servicemen.

KELLY: Well, that's a ticklish proposition right there. The Red Cross, I don't give them nothing.

WALLACE: How come?

KELLY: Well, I was overseas in North Africa, broke, went to the Red Cross Center, I paid a nickel for a cup of coffee and a doughnut; I got over into Italy, come out of front lines and went to a Red Cross Center, got in this line to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut, got at the end of it and they were selling tickets. I was broke. I turned around and walked away.

WALLACE: Do you think that was a peculiar or singular experience, or did this happen with a good many of the fellows overseas? And we're talking now about just the work...

KELLY: That has happened to every fellow overseas. If he went to a Red Cross Center in North Africa, or in Italy, he paid for his coffee and doughnuts in the Red Cross Center. If he had money or if he didn't have any money either, I imagine they'd give you a big slip of paper to sign.

WALLACE: You don't feel that way, of course, about... or do you...? about the work that the Red Cross does here now, for instance, with the floods and the hurricane down south? That's a different story...

KELLY: No, that's a lot different because... Overseas, I don't know what the trouble was there, or what their excuse is for, but we... I know I paid for my coffee and doughnuts, back here I had nothing to do with them.

WALLACE: I understand that you have a gripe against the WACS, the Women's Army Corps. You've said, "Us guys in the Infantry were just dirt under their feet." That's a quote from Commando Kelly.

KELLY: That's right.

WALLACE: Now, what did you mean by that, Chuck?

KELLY: Well, overseas, the WACS would never have anything to do with an infantryman. Remarks were made to me and to my First Sergeant and the other men in our outfit. We'd come back off the front line and we'd hold dances. Well, naturally, when you hold a dance you got to have the women. We went to different WAC-ries; they called us high-priced killers and they said we were lousy, that we didn't take baths for sixty or seventy days. So that killed the... me and the WACS, and killed all of the front line soldiers at that time.

WALLACE: In just a minute or so I would like your opinion of this statement that was made by the late scientist, Dr. Albert Einstein, Chuck, the man who fathered the atomic age. I quote from his book “Ideas and Opinions.” Einstein says of military systems, quote, "I abhor them, that a man can take pleasure in marching in fours to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how passionately I hate them, how vile and despicable war seems to me. I would rather be hacked to pieces than take part in such abominable business." Unquote, Albert Einstein. We'll get Commando Kelly's opinion of that statement in less than thirty seconds.


WALLACE: All right now, Chuck, let me quote it again quickly. Dr. Einstein said, "That a man can take pleasure in marching in fours to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. Heroism on command, senseless violence, all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how passionately I hate them, how vile and despicable seems war to me. I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such abominable business." As one of America's most decorated heroes, what's your opinion of that statement by this century's greatest scientist?

KELLY: Well, number one is: I think everybody, especially the boys that are in service, they don't like to do the marching and wars, you know, they don't want that. His statement is correct: he hates it and so do the boys in the service. Er... If we didn't have wars, they'd use the atomic bombs, if it were his. If they'd use it, we'd stop that marching and we could all live in peace back home. I'm not worrying about Europe; the... my only objective is United States because in my opinion I don't think... I know they are not civilized, they can't be because every few years you have a war over there.

WALLACE: When you say, "I know they are not civilized, every few years you have a war over there," who are you talking about?

KELLY: Well, Germany, China, Russia; it seems like they are military countries. As far back as I can read, or even when I was in school, it is a military country. You always see films and movies of Germany and their power, so I can't... I know they are not civilized or they'd be on a more peaceful move like United States. We don't want a big Army but they do.

WALLACE: You genuinely believe then, the United States is a peaceful country? Peaceful intentions?

KELLY: We are the most peaceful country in the world.

WALLACE: And when they say that we are mong... war mongers, when the Russians talk about the war mongers in the United States, you think that that is just pure propaganda.

KELLY: I know it's propaganda.

WALLACE: There are those over the past five or ten years, nobody really has taken them very seriously, Chuck, but there's been a good deal of talk from time to time about preventive war. About our going and dropping atom bombs or even hydrogen bombs, let's say over Russia, ahead of time, in order to stop the threat now. What's your feeling about that?

KELLY: Nope, the United States has never started a war and I don't think that it ever will.

WALLACE: But this isn't to start a war, this is to stop a war before one can begin. In other words, to stop them ahead of time.

KELLY: Well, nope, you'd have to start the war if you dropped the bomb. So that's starting the war, right there. Maybe we get some of them but we can't get all of them, so the war is started then.

WALLACE: Chuck, have you ever had any desire to go back into the service yourself?

KELLY: No, I was offered a chance to, but I never did.

WALLACE: You were offered...? How do you mean that you were offered a chance?

KELLY: Well, the President of the United States says that I'd make a good First Sergeant. Recruiting Sergeant.

WALLACE: President Eisenhower said that?

KELLY: That's right.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. And?

KELLY: I'm getting a little too old. Seems funny, I don't look it, but I know that I am.

WALLACE: You're thirty-six now.

KELLY: That's right.

WALLACE: It's not a question of getting back into uniform, it's not the military in itself, it's just that... er...

KELLY: It's the age.

WALLACE: It's the age.

KELLY: Yeah.

WALLACE: For you now, I understand that you said to our reporter last week, you are living now in Louisville. You said that you'd like to go down to Florida and go to work, you didn't have a job down there. You said that "I am just a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, I think maybe my wife and I would like to live in Florida." What is it Chuck, you're thirty-six now, what do you want to do with your life from here on?

KELLY: It isn't my life. Only one thing I'm thinking of, is the life of my children. Me, I have to live mine but I want to get something for them, and I think Florida or something like that, maybe I can do it.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... What kind of a job do you want?

KELLY: That, I don't know. I have many jobs... I had many jobs and everyone of them I had I started at the bottom and always worked to the top. I'm fortunate that way but I can go and pick up anything.

WALLACE: Uh-huh... Do yo, honestly Chuck, do you miss the public attention, the excitement, the parades, the luncheon engagements, the public adulation? Do you miss that now? Or are you quite content to be anonymous Charles Kelly instead of celebrated Commando Kelly?

KELLY: Well, for many years I went around and nobody ever knew who I was. Just until the time that I got sick, and they got a hold of a story and found out who I was. I was content, as long as I go along minding my own business, and my kids've got food in their mouth I'm satisfied.

WALLACE: Good luck to you Commando.

KELLY: Good luck to you.

WALLACE: And thank you for coming and spending this time with us here.

KELLY: It's a pleasure.

WALLACE: Discretion has rarely been the better part of valor for Commando Kelly, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and in peace time as in war the Commando fights his own battles, asks favors from no man. A rundown on next week's interview in just a minute.


WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of Steve Allen, his opinions of television, the people who work in it, and the people who watch it. If you're curious to know what Steve Allen thinks of Ed Sullivan's calling him a punk and a cry baby, if you want to hear his answers to poet Carl Sandburg's charge that television is fast becoming the opiate of the people, and if you want his thoughts on American politics and American morals, we'll go after these stories from Steve Allen next Sunday. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace. Good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality House.