Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Tom Kelley '56 to Speak to Students
Boston College High School is honored to host two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients on September 16. The recipients will arrive by Black Hawk helicopter, landing on the southeast corner of campus and will proceed to the school to address the student body on the ideals of courage and selfless service which is the foundation of the character development program. Medal of Honor recipient Tom Kelley, of Somerville, MA, a 1956 BC High graduate and recipient Gary Wetzel will speak to the students.
While in the Navy, Kelley was decorated for saving dozens of his crew members when their disabled boat came under attack in the Mekong Delta of the Ong Muong province, Vietnam. On June 15, 1969, he placed his own boat between enemy fire and the disabled craft. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded next to him, hurling him into a tight shaft where he was wedged. No one could extricate him because of the on-going firefight. Despite his severe injuries, including loss of an eye, he was able to continue directing his men and got everyone to safety. A corpsman stabilized him and he was airlifted to a hospital. Not expected to live initially, he survived and continued to serve the Navy for another twenty years, retiring as a captain. Kelley also served as Secretary of Veterans’ Services for Massachusetts for a dozen years.
Sp4c. Wetzel displayed extraordinary heroism in his efforts to aid his fellow crewmen, as door gunner aboard a helicopter which was part of an insertion force trapped in a landing zone by intense and deadly hostile fire near in the Vietnam War. Sp4c. Wetzel was going to the aid of his aircraft commander when he was critically wounded by 2 enemy rockets that exploded just inches from his location. Although bleeding profusely due to the loss of his left arm and severe wounds in his right arm, chest, and left leg, Sp4c. Wetzel staggered back to his original position in his gun‑well and took the enemy forces under fire. His machine-gun was the only weapon placing effective fire on the enemy at that time.
Refusing to attend to his own extensive wounds, he came to the side of the crew chief who was attempting to drag the wounded aircraft commander to the safety of a nearby dike. Unswerving in his devotion to his fellow man, Sp4c. Wetzel assisted his crew chief even though he lost consciousness once again during this action.
His gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
BC High’s other Medal of Honor recipient, Jesuit priest Joseph Timothy O’Callahan received the award during World War II while he served as a Navy chaplain. When his ship came under attack, he helped the wounded and led others in controlling battle damage, despite his own injuries.
As part of the Medal of Honor Society’s Boston convention, the pair, along with several other recipients will visit area high schools to discuss their Foundation’s character development program. The program was launched in the Commonwealth this April and operates in over thirty states.
The Medal of Honor’s character development program focuses on how youth can emulate the values of courage and service by simple charitable acts in their everyday lives.