(May 6, 1918) First Lieutenant Harry F. Kelly of Ottawa was awarded the Cross of War medal by the French government at a hospital near Verdun for gallantry displayed in the recent raid by German shock troops on American positions, according to a dispatch sent by a correspondent with the American Army in France.
The citation for Lieut. Kelly, who lost a leg, reads:
“Wounded in both legs and made prisoner by five of the enemy, he bravely defended himself and escaped, with the aid of a few men who had run to his assistance. Wounded again, he had to spend the entire night at a trench end before it was evacuated.”
The presentation took place in the ward of the hospital where Kelly is being treated, the medal being pinned on his pajamas by a French general.
Kelly’s only complaint was that his bed was too short to permit him stretch his six foot two frame to its full-length with the remaining battered leg.
The dispatch telling of this decoration of their son was the first news which Mr. and Mrs. Henry M. Kelly of Ottawa had received in regard to the extent of the young man’s injuries.
In a cablegram which Lieut. Kelly sent shortly after being wounded, he stated that he had been shot in the leg, but that his condition was not serious.
A few days afterward, a message came from the War Department stating that Kelly had been seriously wounded.
2018 Editor’s note:
When Ottawa World War I hero Harry Kelly lost a leg in France, it didn't slow him down.
It likely got him running for and winning elected Republican offices.
The first win for the young lawyer was as La Salle County State's Attorney, where he served from 1920 to 1924. Later, after his family moved to Michigan, he was a prosecutor, secretary of state, governor and a Michigan Supreme Court justice from 1954 to 1971.
The Kelly family was long-established in Ottawa. Harry Kelly's grandfather, Martin Kelly, served during the Civil War with an artillery unit from Ottawa. Martin Kelly's brother, John Kelly, was a friend of Chief Shabbona and witnessed the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Washington Square.
Henry "Harry" Francis Kelly, who had a twin sister, was born April 19, 1895.
As a boy, Harry lived at 834 Congress St. and later at Eastwood, the 21-room family home, now gone, that also stood on the city's East Side.
Harry's father, Henry, was an attorney, and Harry, a 1913 graduate of Ottawa Township High School, followed in his footsteps, attending law school at Notre Dame University and receiving his law degree in 1917.
Kelly, like many of his classmates, joined the Army to serve in World War I. He completed his officer training at Fort Sheridan Dec. 9, 1917, and the day after Christmas left for France.
Upon his arrival in France, he was assigned to Company L, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division as a platoon leader.
On the night of April 13-14, 1918, the Germans boxed in the Third Battalion with a heavy artillery barrage and followed it with a massive trench raid. This was the first serious action seen by any unit of the 9th Infantry.
During this action, Lt. Kelly was seriously wounded by a German grenade, causing the loss of most of his left leg and part of his right heel.
Although wounded in both legs, Kelly fought until he was captured by five enemy soldiers. But despite wounds and with the aid of some American soldiers, he escaped — only to be wounded again.
Kelly was taken to a military hospital and sent his parents a reassuring telegram that said "Slight wound in leg. No danger."
But a few days later another telegram advised his parents his condition was more serious. Soon after, Kelly's left leg was amputated above the knee.
On April 29, 1918, he wrote his father.
"I used to think I would never want to return in any other condition than that in which I left, preferring death instead. But things appear altogether different to me now and home never seemed dearer."
A few days later, at the chateau that was serving as a hospital, the French government presented Kelly with a Croix de Guerre medal, or Cross of War, in recognition of his heroism.
He wrote about the experience to his parents on May 6, 1918.
"It was quite a ceremony. Three French generals, the American general of my division, three United States colonels, five United States majors and a very large number of captains and lieutenants made up the party."
The decoration, he wrote, was "an honor that I, in my wildest dreams, never hoped to acquire. I will be home soon, not quite the same person physically as when I left for I will be moving around on one leg, but I certainly cannot but appreciate the fact that my efforts in doing my part have met the notice of the French and other generals in this community. It is a testimonial concerning valor which leaves no one in doubt and I will treasure it indeed to my dying day."
After the ceremony there was a party with "French pastry, cookies, cakes and as always the French drink, champagne.
"Of course, I was not in on the champagne part as I have never yet had a taste of it."
The next day, he wrote, "I was brought outside in my chair and first of all photographs were taken and then moving pictures with a couple of French nurses on the scene attending to me."
In June, John Cassidy, an Ottawa native and former college roommate who took his officer training with Kelly, visited.
He later wrote Kelly's sister, Marie, that he saw Kelly's medal pinned to the wall near his bed and Kelly looking "unusually well for what he has been through."
He noted there was a constant stream of Army visitors of all ranks.
"Do they like him? Better than that, Marie. They love him ...
"The chief surgeon told me that Harry was the greatest favorite they ever had. His popularity does not come from the fact that he was in a fight and was wounded ....
"Doctors and nurses are quite accustomed to that. But they were not accustomed to having patients bear all their suffering and pain without a whimper like Harry took it all."
Cassidy later served as Illinois attorney general from 1938 to 1941.
On Feb. 8, 1971, six weeks after his retirement from the Michigan Supreme Court, Kelly died from a stroke in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 75.
In Jan. 20, 2007, Kelly became the second person to be inducted into the Ottawa Township High School Hall of Fame.
World War I wasn’t the only time Kelly had been designated as a target, according to his son, Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly was a television actor who is remembered for his role as Porter Ricks in the 1964 to 1967 NBC series "Flipper," which starred a bottlenose dolphin in the title role.
In a 1963 interview, Brian Kelly said in the days when his father was a prosecutor in Michigan, he had been the target of an assassination plot by a member of Detroit's famous Purple Gang.
"One of the gang escaped from prison, killed the judge who had sent him up and was finally captured near our home with a high-powered rifle trained on our backyard.
"My brother and sister and I were playing in the yard — but he was waiting only for my father to come out. Fortunately, he didn't."