Written by the late VADM John W. Nyquist, USN (Ret.)
Born in 1930 in New Haven, Connecticut, James F. “Jim” Kelly led a storied naval career, combining years of sea duty, many of which were in command and combat, with studies at the nation’s finest post-graduate institutions and key shore billets, including duty on the staffs of CINCPACFLT and CNO. He was and remains a master mariner, combat veteran, brilliant leader and noted author.
Following graduation from Southern Connecticut University and Officer Candidate School, Kelly was commissioned Ensign in 1953 and served in Atlantic Fleet carriers and destroyers before reporting as Executive Officer aboard USS Westchester County.
With the Vietnam conflict accelerating, CAPT Kelly served afloat as chief staff officer of Commander Destroyer Squadron19. Earning a master’s degree in management at the Naval Postgraduate School, he returned to sea in 1966 as executive officer of USS Gridley, making two more combat deployments.
Following Army War College, CAPT Kelly commanded USS Parsons, conducting shore bombardment operations off Vietnam. Selected for major command, he reported to USS Fox, deploying to both WESTPAC and the Middle East Force as commander, Middle East Forces, flagship. Service as assistant chief of staff at Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, followed where he was instrumental in integrating women into U.S. Pacific Fleet ships. CAPT Kelly then took command of USS Dixie and later the Naval Personnel Research and Development Center.
Among CAPT Kelly’s highest military decorations are the Legion of Merit (two awards) and Bronze Star with Combat V. Retiring from active duty in 1983, Kelly earned a doctorate in education at University of San Diego; was a senior vice president at Great American Bank; and taught ship handling, seamanship, and navigation at Naval Base San Diego.
Kelly served as foreman of the San Diego County Grand Jury, president of the San Diego Council of the Navy League, and president of the San Diego Lions Club. He is a frequent contributor to Naval Institute Proceedings and other publications. His weekly column has appeared in the Coronado Eagle & Journal for 20 years. Kelly and his wife of 65 years, Charlane, are longtime Coronado residents with three children and three grandchildren.