Colin Kelly

Colin Purdie Kelly Jr. (/ˈkoʊlɪn/; July 11, 1915 – December 10, 1941) was a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who flew bombing runs against the Japanese navy in the first days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as one of the first American heroes of the war after ordering his crew to bail out shortly before his bomber exploded, killing him. His was the first American B-17 to be shot down in combat.

Colin Kelly
Colin Kelly
Painted in 1942 by Deane Keller
Birth nameColin Purdie Kelly Jr.
BornJuly 11, 1915
Madison, Florida
DiedDecember 10, 1941 (aged 26)
Clark Field, Philippines
Oak Ridge Cemetery, Madison Florida
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Corps
Years of service1937 - 1941
Unit14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross


Kelly was born in Madison, Florida in 1915 and graduated from high school there in 1932. He went on to West Point in 1933, graduated in the Class of 1937, and was assigned to a B-17 bomber group. He was the first Army officer to fly the Boeing Flying Fortress in the Far East.[1]


On December 10, 1941, Kelly's B-17C, USAAF 40-2045, (19th BG / 30th BS), took off from Clark Field in the Philippines. During its bombing run, with Sergeant Meyer Levin as bombardier, Kelly's plane slightly damaged the Japanese cruiser Natori.[2] On its return flight, the bomber was then engaged by the Tainan Air Group A6Ms which had been patrolling over Vigan. They attacked it, followed it, and attacked again. At last near Clark Field it began to burn, and Kelly ordered his crew to bail out; the aircraft then blew up, killing him. The attackers did not see this, and initially were credited only with a probable "kill", shared jointly by Toyoda, Yamagami, Kikuchi, Nozawa, and Izumi. Saburō Sakai, who has often been credited with destroying this aircraft, was indeed a flight (諸隊 shotai) leader engaged in this fight with the bomber, but he and his two wingmen do not appear to have been given official credit for its despatch.[3]

Early reports misidentified the Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara, which was present, as the battleship Haruna, which was not. Many reputable publications, including Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, continue to report that Kelly bombed and sank the Japanese battleship Haruna or the cruiser Natori or the Ashigara, and that the date of the bombing was December 9, 1941, and not December 10. Although initial reports were that the ship was sunk and Kelly's crew claimed the ship was heavily damaged, the Natori was, in fact, only lightly damaged.[4][5]


Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross For "extraordinary heroism" and "selfless bravery". Kelly had earlier in peace time also been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[6]

The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce posthumously gave its 1941 distinguished service award to Kelly on January 22, 1942, in Chicago. The award is given annually to the man under 35 years of age who has rendered the “most significant” service to the nation.[7]

Aviation artist Robert Taylor painted a picture entitled The Legend of Colin Kelly.

In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Colin P. Kelly Jr. was named in his honor.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter, "To the President of the United States of America in 1956" asking for an appointment for Kelly's infant son. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored the request and appointed Colin P. Kelly III, who graduated from West Point in 1963.[8]

Colin P. Kelly Jr. Street in San Francisco, near Oracle Park, was named in his honor in 1942. The street had previously been named Japan Street. Colin Kelly Dr. in Dayton, OH, is one of many streets near Wright Patterson Air Force Base named to honor Air Force heroes. Colin Kelly Drive in Forest Acres, SC, is also named in his honor, as is Colin Kelly Street in Cranford, NJ.[8]

The patriotic song There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere by Paul Roberts and Shelby Darnell (recorded by Elton Britt) places Colin Kelly alongside other legendary Americans in the line "I'll see Lincoln, Custer, Washington, and Perry, / Nathan Hale, and Colin Kelly too".{Published by Bob Miller, Inc., 1619 Broadway, New York, New York. Copyright 1952. Source:sheet music.

The "Four Freedoms Monument" and Colin Kelly Highway, both in Madison, Florida, are dedicated in his honor.

Colin Kelly Middle School in Eugene, Oregon, was named in his honor in 1945 by the school's first students, who preferred an "ordinary Joe" as a namesake, rather than prestigious military or political figures.[9] The school colors are kelly green and white, and the nickname originally was "Bombers." In 2013, the nickname was changed to "Pilots."[10]

Colin P. Kelly Elementary School in Compton, California, is named in his honor.


  1. ^ "Congressional Record - 106th Congress (1999-2000) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)".
  2. ^ "Imperial Cruisers".
  3. ^ Shores, Cull and Izawa 1992, pp. 182.
  4. ^ Webster's New Biographical Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc. (1981), p. 551
  5. ^ "Colin Kelly, USAAC, kia 10 Dec. '41".
  6. ^ "Valor awards for Colin Purdie Kelly Jr". Archived from the original on 2013-09-28.
  7. ^ United Press, “Capt. Kelly Honored By Junior Chamber,” The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Friday 23 January 1942, Volume 48, page 12.
  8. ^ a b Clark 2014, pp. 191.
  9. ^ Eugene's Historic River Road (PDF). Historic Preservation Northwest. June 2006. p. 8.5. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  10. ^ Welch, Bob (March 12, 2013). "From 'Bombers' to 'Pilots,' mascot reflects times". The Register-Guard. Retrieved 3 October 2018.


  • Burton, John (2006). Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of Pearl Harbor. US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-096-X.
  • Clark, James (2014). A Concise History of Florida. The History Press. ISBN 978-1626196186.
  • Shores, Christopher; Cull, Brian; Izawa, Yasuho (1992). Bloody Shambles: Volume One: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore. London: Grub Street. ISBN 0-948817-50-X.

External links

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Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps' performance specifications. Although Boeing lost the contract (to the Douglas B-18 Bolo) because the prototype crashed, the air corps ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most produced bomber of all time, behind the four-engined B-24 and the multirole, twin-engined Ju 88.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in central, eastern and southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.From its prewar inception, the USAAC (by June 1941, the USAAF) promoted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a relatively fast, high-flying, long-range bomber with heavy defensive armament at the expense of bombload. It developed a reputation for toughness based upon stories and photos of badly damaged B-17s safely returning to base. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of approximately 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, over 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. In addition to its role as a bomber, the B-17 was also employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller, and search-and-rescue aircraft.

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Colin (given name)

Colin is an English-language masculine given name. It has two distinct origins:

A diminutive form of "Colle", itself an Old French short form of the name Nicolas (Nicholas). This name, but not the anglicized Gaelic name, is also found in the spelling Collin. This name is formed by the Old French diminutive -in also found in Robin.

An anglicized form of the Gaelic name Cuilen, Cailean, modern Irish spelling Coileáin, meaning "whelp, cub". The Old Irish word for "whelp," is cuilén. The Scottish Gaelic name is recorded in the spelling Colin from as early as the 14th century. MacCailean was a patronymic used by Clan Campbell, after Cailean Mór (d. 1296).As a surname, Colin can be derived from the given name, but can also be of unrelated (French) origin.

The Irish patronymic Ó Coileáin gave rise to the surname Cullen (which is also the anglicization of the unrelated patronymic Ó Cuilinn).

Colin ranked 319th most popular name England and Wales in 1996 and 684th most popular in 2014. It has been moderately popular in the United States and was listed in the top 100 boys names in the U.S. in 2005. In Scotland it ranked 302 in 2014, but in Ireland it is more popular, ranking 88th in 2006.In the US, Colin peaked in 2004 at rank 84, but has substantially declined since (rank 196 as of 2016).

The form Collin reached the peak of its popularity somewhat earlier, at rank 115 in 1996, and has declined to rank 298 as of 2016.

Taken together, the names Colin and Collin accounted for 0.16% (about 1 in 620) of boys named in the US in 2016, down from 0.4% (one in 250) in 2004.

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Colin Kelly (born December 29, 1990) is an American football offensive tackle for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League (CFL). He played college football at Oregon State. He was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He has also been a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, and the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL.

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Meyer Levin (military)

Meyer (Mike) Levin (June 5, 1916 - January 7, 1943) was a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bombardier, pilot, and war hero. Three days after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, he flew on a mission with pilot Colin Kelly against the Japanese navy. Kelly died trying to save his crew and became a war hero. On that mission, Levin became the first American to blow up a Japanese warship. During his subsequent 60 combat missions, Levin also sank an enemy ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.A year later, although he was off duty, he volunteered to be the spotter and bombardier for a combat mission near New Guinea. During its return, the B-17 ran low on fuel and made a forced landing into stormy seas. Levin remained in the plane and released the life raft which saved the lives of the three other crew members. In doing so, however, Levin was injured and died when the plane sank.

Levin won the distinguished flying cross for being the first to successfully bomb a Japanese battleship, Haruna, the silver star for a direct hit on a 15,000 ton Japanese transport, and the oak leaf cluster for gallantry. He is remembered as one of the first American heroes of World War II for sacrificing his own life to save members of his crew.

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