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    Honoring the legacy: A personal journey through family history and Air Force heritage

    Honoring the legacy

    Photo By Master Sgt. Amy Picard | Sgt. James (Jim) A. Kelly Jr., B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the 8th Army Air...... read more read more

    Military service has been a tradition passed down through generations, forging strong connections between past and present. For U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Marcus Kelley, aircrew flight equipment technician for the B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, this connection runs deep as he follows in his grandfather's footsteps within the Air Force. The echoes of his experiences resonate in his goals and aspirations, driving him to seek out his past and honor his grandfather's memory.

    Airman 1st Class Kelley participated in a Bomber Task Force (BTF) at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command routinely and visibly demonstrates a commitment to our allies and partners by employing our military forces, demonstrating strategic predictability while becoming more operationally unpredictable to adversaries. BTF missions are designed to showcase PACAF's ability to deter, deny, and dominate any influence or aggression from adversaries or competitors.

    "Being assigned to the B-52H Stratofortress is truly special, allowing me to walk in my grandfather's footsteps," said Airman 1st Class Kelley. "Our intertwined paths create a deep connection to his memory and the rich history of the Air Force."

    Kelley traces his inspiration for joining the Air Force back to his grandfather, whose path intersected with his in unexpected ways. Their shared journey through Sheppard AFB for technical school and the common bond of serving in the 8th Air Force instills a profound sense of heritage and duty.

    Kelley's grandfather, Sgt. James (Jim) A. Kelly Jr., B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the 8th Army Air Force (8 AAF), became a prisoner of war (POW) during WWII after his aircraft was shot down.

    Sgt. Kelley wrote about his time as a POW in an autobiography for his grandson, Marcus, and gave it to him before his passing. A few excerpts from what was written are as followed:

    “We picked up our parachutes and went to the briefing room. We were told that the allies had invaded southern France and that we were to bomb an airfield in France and that there would be more planes in the air than had been since 'D' Day. We took off and our group and wing assembled over the coast of England.

    That bubble soon burst as our crew was posted on the flight board about 7:00 p.m. for the mission on August 16, 1944. There was no way any of our crew could realize how that day would affect the rest of our lives.

    The hours crept by, we saw some flak but the only fighter planes we saw very close were the P-51s that were our escort.

    The sky was black with smoke from shells bursting at our exact altitude, we were still a few miles away from the target. I put my turret in a stowed position and climbed down and stood between the pilot and co-pilot. The flak was now close enough for us to see the red and orange flame of the shells when they exploded. We received our first hit shortly after the bomb bay doors were opened, this hit caught us right in the number two engine, luckily this shell did not explode because if it had, the whole plane would have blown up and I would not be here writing this.

    Upon leaving the plane it was like entering a new world. Leaving the noise behind and into almost complete silence, except for the sound of the air rushing by. We had been instructed not to pull our rip cord too soon because of the cold, lack of oxygen and a better chance of escaping if we landed in an area to do so.

    It was a most peaceful feeling coming down, I took off my flying boots and as I let them go I could have sworn that I was standing still and they were climbing, I unbuttoned a pocket on my coveralls, tore up the flight formation that I had been given. Every few seconds I would stick my arms straight out and this would have positioned my body so that I would be looking straight down, the first few times the ground seemed a long way off, but the last time I did this I could see people on the ground. Before I could release myself from my parachute harness, I could see that I had landed in a group of apple trees in middle of a small German village.

    The next day we boarded a train and were taken to the Air Force interrogation center in Frankfurt, Germany. We were put into solitary confinement, with only a cot in the room. I was in a room on the second floor, the windows were shuttered so we could not see out. The first night we were there the British bombed the area, I tried to open the shutters but could not do so but we could hear the anti-aircraft fire and the distant sound of bombs exploding…”

    Sgt. Kelley was a POW from Aug. 16, 1944 to May 2nd, 1945.

    In a tribute to his grandfather's legacy, Airman 1st Class Kelley designed a sleeve of tattoos that symbolize the values and experiences he and his grandfather both cherish.

    The intricate design of dog tags, POW symbolism, and the 8th Army Air Corps insignia pay homage to his wartime struggles and unwavering dedication. Each inked detail serves as a visual narrative of his story, keeping his memory alive and close to his heart. Admiration for his resilience is a testament to his courage and sacrifice, shaping his reverence for the Air Force history he lived.

    The depiction of the B-17 Bomber, known as the Flying Fortress, is a poignant reminder of his grandfather's harrowing ordeal when his plane got shot down over enemy territory.

    The image of a parachutist descending his wrist embodies the pivotal moment when his grandfather made a life-saving decision to bail out of his plunging aircraft. This act of survival, paired with Kelley's role in handling emergency parachutes and survival gear, symbolizes Kelley’s readiness to catch him, metaphorically safeguarding his memory and bravery. The tattoo serves as a reminder of his courage and the bond that transcends time and space.

    Kelley's tattoo featuring the P-51 Mustangs, specifically the Red Tails, reflects Kelley’s squadron at Air Force Basic Military Training. In conducting research, Kelley learned the P-51 Mustangs escorted B-17s on bombing runs, protecting B-17 bombers during perilous raids, mirroring his protective instinct towards honoring his grandfather's memory and symbolizing joining him in the fight. The Red Tails' legacy of excellence in the face of adversity resonates with his commitment to uphold their spirit of valor.

    "My future aspirations include flying in a B-17, visiting the POW camps in Germany where my grandfather was held during the Black March, pay respects at the site of his plane's landing, and honor my grandfather—one of my greatest heroes," said Kelley.

    For Airman 1st Class Kelley, each tattoo etched on his skin is not merely an artistic expression but a living tribute to his grandfather's legacy and the enduring values of service, sacrifice, and honor. Through these intricate designs, he weaves a tapestry of remembrance, ensuring that his story lives on in his journey through the Air Force and beyond. In honoring his memory, he finds strength, purpose, and a profound connection to the lineage of heroes who have shaped his path.



    Date Taken: 03.07.2024
    Date Posted: 03.08.2024 14:10
    Story ID: 465648
    Location: GU

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