Charles E. Kelley–“Chuck”–grew up as a devout Catholic kid in the small, hilly community of Elliot in Pittsburgh’s West End area. He was a junior in high school when he heard news on a neighbor’s radio about Pearl Harbor. Chuck knew that it was a matter of time before he would be called up for duty. Until then, he would spend his final year of high school consumed with dances and basketball. It was the same year, he remembers, that a priest came into his classroom one day and said, “This time next year most of you boys will be shouldering guns.”
After high school, Chuck spent two years at Duquesne University but enlisted in the Army in the
fall of 1942. He was not called up for service until February 1943. It would be five years until Chuck would return to his accounting studies at Duquesne, supported, like thousands of his fellow veterans, by the GI Bill.
During the war Chuck Kelley was a bombardier, first aboard the A-20 attack bomber and then the newer A-26—the Army Air Corps’ supreme twin engine tactical bomber. By the summer of 1944, Chuck was flying regular missions against Nazi targets—sometimes twice a day. He first flew from airbases near Corbeil-Essonnes in the north, and then Cucuron in the south of France. Unlike the rotation for long range strategic bombers, the mission quota for the more agile attack bombers was an astounding 62 missions.
“Sometimes your could tell when I guy…just cracked,” Chuck says softly. He would get quiet. If the Flight Surgeon took note, the affected man would quickly dissapear from the unit. The other men understood. They were respectful. No one knew how they would react on their next mission. “When your time comes,” Chuck recalls a common sentiment among the flyers, “you’re gonna get it.”
When the war ended in Europe, Chuck had flown least 33 sorties. He still had a lot of flying to do, thought the Army, and he was reassigned to the States in preparation for re-deployment to the Pacific. Fortunately, the war ended before Chuck Kelley was sent westward toward Japan. His time had come, but in a different way. He got to go home.
In June 2011, The Social Voice Project conducted a series of audio interviews with veterans living at Lighthouse Pointe independent living community in O’Hara Township, Allegheny County. Resident Emily Drake, herself a WW II veteran (WAC), assisted in the production of the interviews. The Lighthouse Pointe series captures the experiences of eight WW II veterans and one Korean War veteran. Interviewer: Kevin Farkas.
When Your Time Comes
When we asked Chuck Kelley about casualties during the war, he took the questions in stride. Sure, there were some from time to time. “They’d take a hose and wash the blood and stuff out of the plane,” he said without much emotion.
The men and women who fought in WW II were not super-human. The daily give and take of violence terribly affected them during and after the war. But “we had a job to do,” many of them say. But how did so many manage to do it without cracking up, as Chuck Kelley might put it?
Some got through the war by trusting in fate. When your time comes you’re gonna get. It’s as simple as that. Chuck’s comrade, a big Irishman named Morgan, put his trust in fate everyday…or perhaps it was the Luck of the Irish.
In My Own Words
Listen to Charles Kelley’s complete audio interview, hosted by Kevin Farkas. An archival version of this interview is available upon request for research and educational purposes.