Lucky Boy Bomber, An Update
On March 1, 2001, this column carried an article and photo of the ''Lucky Boy,'' a WWII Martin Marauder B-26 bomber, and its pilot, Russell Kelley. What distinguished this bomber and its pilot from all the others who served during the war, was that Russell Kelley was from Galesburg and the bomber was named for the Lucky Boy Bakery, then located on the north side of Main Street in Galesburg. Mr. Kelley had been an employee of the bakery, before and after, serving as a pilot in Europe. In a sense of ''it's a small world'', when I showed a photo of the plane to my mother, she knew and remembered Russell and his wife. Despite efforts, I learned little more about Russell Kelley, his crew, where specifically he served in Europe, and learned nothing of the WGIL radio show in Galesburg that featured this bomber and crew. So I wrote what I knew, and asked for help from the Zephyr's readers. Thanks to the readers' interests and willingness to share, I now know more, and offer this update. I also offer my thanks to those of you who provided information to the Zephyr, and who were willing to talk with me about Russell Kelley and his plane, Lucky Boy.
First, the end of the story. Mr. Kelley is alive and lives in the San Francisco, Calif. area. He has kin and friends around the Galesburg community. Second, I understand, embarrassingly, that Russell Kelley is related to my mother's next-door neighbor who is a Kelley. But on with the story.
Russell Kelley was born in 1920 in Abingdon, and was the son of Howard Lennie Kelley. As we know, Russell Kelley worked at the Lucky Boy Bakery in Galesburg but left to serve in WWII. I now know that he served in Europe, Africa, and Middle East Campaigns. He graduated from the U.S. Army flight school as a 2nd Lieutenant, (Class 43J). From the U.S., he went through Puerto Rico, Trinidad, British Guinea, Brazil, Morocco and Telergma near Constantine.
From March 1944 to November 1944, he flew missions from Sardinia, over Italy and southern France. He participated in the Arno River Campaign in Italy and the Po River Valley invasion in southern France. In November of 1944, the Kelley family history records ''he left 12th Air Force and joined 42nd bomb wing, 17th bomb group, 37th Squadron Whole Wing. Flew total of 65 missions.'' In November of 1944, he was reassigned to the Tactical Air Force, Dijon, France.''
It seems that Russell Kelley has a brother named Howard Lennie Kelley Jr. who also served in World War II, serving duty as a signalman in North Africa and in Italy. Howard Kelley Jr. lives in Florida. His daughter, Denise, is the genealogist of the Kelley family and has been the source of most of the above information. To her, I owe a ''thank you.''
I thought about contacting Mr. Kelley but decided that he deserves his privacy and may not care to discuss the war, even after all these years. It is not uncommon. But it was not an easy decision. In fact, I even tried the phone number that was given to me, but it was no longer current. I trusted in fate. He served his country. He owes us nothing. And we owe him his privacy.
After reviewing the article published on March 1st, I also concluded that I owe an apology to you, the readers, and to Mr. Kelley, for entirely too many errors in the text. I could attempt to explain but they would appear to be excuses. The subject of the article and Mr. Kelley deserve better treatment that they received in the article. I will do better.
And I wish the best to Mr. Russell Kelley, his family and his friends. To have flown 65 missions and returned home, the plane and crew deserve the name: ''Lucky Boy.''