Profiles of Valor: Gen. John Kelly, USMC
Character, integrity, and humility are what John and Karen Kelly embody and inspire in those around them.
“A good moral character is the first essential in a man. … It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous.” —George Washington (1790)
Gen. John Kelly (USMC, Ret.) is a “Mustang,” a moniker for military personnel who were enlisted and became officers. These “prior enlisted” officers have earned an added measure of respect from those who serve with and under them. John Kelly did not just rise from the enlisted ranks, but at the end of his 43-year career in the Marine Corps, he retired as an O-10 (four-star general).
A Boston native, before the Marine Corps he served for a year with the United States Merchant Marines, where he recalls, “My first time overseas was taking 10,000 tons of beer to Vietnam.” In 1970, he enlisted with the Marines and served two years with the 2nd Marine Division before being discharged as a sergeant to attend the University of Massachusetts. He completed Officer Candidate School in 1975 and graduated college in 1976, married his sweetheart Karen Hernest, and returned to the 2nd Marine Division as a 2ndLt.
His extraordinary biography speaks for itself, but there are three things that I would mention.
First, while serving in Iraq in March 2003, then-Col. Kelly was promoted to brigadier general, the first active combat zone promotion of a Marine colonel since that of another First Marine Division assistant division commander, the Marine’s Marine, Chesty Puller, who was serving in Korea in 1951. (One succinct comment from Puller I will never forget — at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, he famously said: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”)
Second would be the fact that among John and Karen’s three children, their oldest son, Marine 1stLt. Robert Kelly, was killed in action serving in Sangin, Afghanistan, during his third combat tour with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. His honor and sacrifice are among those discredited by Joe Biden’s disgraceful surrender and retreat from Afghanistan.
And third, in 2017, after serving as Donald Trump’s secretary of homeland security, Trump asked Kelly to be his White House chief of staff. At the time, Kelly observed, “After one week on this job, I believe the best job I ever had is as a sergeant in the Marine Corps.”
Gen. Kelly was one of four key people who lent their good names, reputations, and credibility to Trump — those who gave many of us a greater sense of peace amid Trump’s unfortunate predisposition to undermine his presidency with caustic communications. Those comms were a major contributing factor in generating so much hatred and fear that an inept imbecile like Biden could get more votes in 2020 — granted, millions of them were fraudulent bulk-mail ballots.
I am both principled and pragmatic. I voted for Trump twice, and I will do so again in 2024 if he is the nominee.
But he lost any loyalty and respect I held when he threw Gen. Kelly under a bus after he resigned, as he had done with Gens. Mattis and Dunsford. Trump declared in typical disdain: “When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. … But like so many X’s, he misses the action and just can’t keep his mouth shut.” The hypocritical irony is, of course, that it is Trump who can’t “keep his mouth shut.” Predictably, he also threw the remaining three key people who gave his administration gravitas under a bus: Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William Barr.
Notably, after the J6 Capitol riot, Kelly, who had refrained from criticizing Trump, said, “What happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the frauds.”
I had the privilege of spending some time with John and Karen Kelly last week before his remarks to an organization that we support through Patriot Foundation Trust as part of The Patriot Post’s Military Mission of Service. That organization is Honoring the Sacrifice, devoted to the assistance of severely wounded military personnel, primarily those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
HTS was the inspiration of our friends Cathy and Todd Smith, whose son Andrew I profiled here. HTS operates with an all-volunteer staff, and unlike other organizations supporting wounded warriors, every penny raised by HTS is returned in direct support to those they serve.
John and Karen Kelly deeply understand the sacrifice of these individuals and their families on behalf of American Liberty, and too often an ungrateful lot of those who live by a sense of entitlement.
Gen. Kelly granted permission to share his remarks, both about these valiant warriors and the staggering threats our nation now faces in the absence of strong national political leadership:
I am privileged, honored, and humbled to stand before such Americans, and their families, who were willing to step out from the crowd and serve their country in uniform when they did not have to. Indeed when everything in our society encourages selfishness and in a time when our citizens increasingly ask “not what I can do for my country, but what my country can do for me,” the men and women we honor here tonight, and of the fallen who we also remember tonight and every night, demonstrated a selflessness that ultimately cost them their physical or mental wellbeing, or their lives, while defending the nation overseas in the wars waged against the hate and intolerance that is Islamic extremism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and a dozen other locations around the world most Americans have never heard of.
They are all heroes, and not just those wounded or killed, but all of them who took the oath to serve our great nation. We owe them everything and we can never forget them.
And I am no less honored to stand here tonight in the presence of the many devoted family members and care givers who have dedicated their lives to their wounded loved ones. To you I say thank you — thank you from the bottom of my heart — as I do to the many volunteers involved with the Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation who unselfishly raise money to care for the country’s wounded and their families when there is a need, and the need is great and forever.
To help a tiny segment of American society who asked for nothing in return for what they have done for every American. Who by their actions, by their deeds, by their selfless devotion to a duty greater than themselves have written in their service and often in their blood a legacy that will remain part of the American legend forever into the future so long as Americans treasure the values that have made us exceptional across nearly 250 years since declaring independence.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are still at war, a war that came to us over 20 years ago, one that will ebb and flow against this land for many decades to come. We can try and wish it away, or give it another name, or make it sound like something it’s not, but it is a fact, and our adversary doesn’t care if we don’t want to fight anymore, he wants nothing more than to take the fight to us relentlessly until he destroys the very fabric of who we are as Americans.
And since this war began, I have made countless visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital, and Walter Reed Army Hospital, and Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, meeting with the terribly wounded, and with their heroic families. My most recent visit was to check on the severely wounded Marines and soldier just days after they were blown up at the Kabul airport gate on 26 August 2021. I have also penned too many condolence letters to the parents, spouses, siblings, and children — some unborn and still in their mother’s womb — of young men and women who have died under my command.
And I have met with dozens of courageous Gold Star Families at funerals I have attended at Arlington and around the nation, and in trying to offer the families of the terribly wounded and those killed in action words of comfort and encouragement, I tried to give them the answers to their desperately asked questions of “why,” and “is anything worth this”?
My feeble attempt was to try to help them understand that since the birth of our nation 42,000,000 million have served in uniform, and over a million have died in her defense. Millions and millions more have been wounded, many terribly. That on 9/11 our country was attacked not just by 19 murderers, but by an ideology that must be defeated and even if we wanted to surrender, there is no one to surrender to. That we face an enemy as savage as any that has ever slithered across this earth, one that offers absolutely no quarter and works to only one end: to kill every one of us here at home or enslave us with a sick form of extremism that serves no God or purpose that decent men and women of any religion could ever grasp.
I remind them that on that day when we were so brutally assaulted American patriotism soared not “as the last refuge” as our national-cynical class would say, but in the darkest times our countrymen have always sought sanctuary in family, and in country, and with the knowledge that strong men and women of character would step forward to protect the nation and its people as they always have. I also reminded them that on that day a small segment of America made very different choices than the rest — actions the rest of America stood in awe of on 9/11 and have every day since.
The first were our firefighters, and police, their ranks decimated that day as they ran towards — not away from — danger and certain death. The second our Armed Forces, many of whom joined for one reason and one reason alone: because of the appalling assault on our way of life. A plastic flag in the car window was not their response to the murderous terrorism of 9/11. No, their response was a commitment to protect the nation, and swearing a sacred oath to their God to do so, to their deaths.
In trying to help the families understand I always made the point that even though our America hasn’t been successfully attacked since 9/11 many in American society forget because they want to forget — to move on. But we can’t rationalize our way out of this war because our enemy refuses to let us go, and this day we still have thousands of service men and women hunting the terrorists in Syria, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Regardless of how much we wish this nightmare would go away, our enemy will stay forever on the offensive until he hurts us so badly, we give in, or we defeat him. To him, this is not about our friendship with Israel, or about territory, resources, jobs, or what horrible ideology, or petty dictator rules in the Middle East.
No, it is about us as a people. About our freedom to worship any God we damn well please in any way we want. It is about the worth of every man, and the worth of every woman, and their equality in the eyes of God and the law, of how we live our lives with our families, inside the privacy of our own homes. It’s about the God-given rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” As Americans, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” He doesn’t. We love what we have; he despises who we are. Our positions can never be reconciled. He cannot be deterred, only defeated. Compromise is out of the question.
What I don’t have to remind any family of those who serve is that although we are in what is a many decades long war, along with the need to deter increasingly hostile potential adversaries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, America as a whole is certainly not at war or ready to serve in whatever might come. Not as a country. Not as a people. Today only a tiny fraction — only 1% of American families — shoulder the burden of fear and sacrifice, and they shoulder it for all of America. It is their sons and daughters who serve and all are men and women of character who continue to believe in this country enough to put life and limb on the line without qualification, and without thought of personal gain.
I also don’t have to tell them that we can all take comfort in the fact that these young Americans are not born killers but are good and decent young men and women who for over two decades have performed remarkable acts of bravery and selflessness to a cause they have decided is bigger and more important than themselves. They do this as their fathers did in Vietnam and their grandfathers and great grandfathers did in Korea and World War II. Before joining up and risking all they delivered newspapers in their neighborhood, stocked shelves in the local grocery store, served Mass on Sunday, played hockey on local ice, or went to their high school proms. They are also the same kids that drove their cars too fast for your liking and played the god-awful music of their generation too loud but have no doubt they are the finest of their generation. Like those who went before them in uniform, we owe them everything. We owe them our safety. We owe them our prosperity. We owe them our freedom. We owe them our lives.
Any one of them could have done something other than join the ranks after high school or college, but, no, they chose to serve knowing full well a brutal and seemingly endless war was in their future. They are the very best this country produces and have put every one of us ahead of themselves. All are heroes for simply stepping forward, and we as a people owe a debt we can never fully repay. Their legacy will be of selfless valor, the county we live in, the way we live our lives, and the freedoms the rest of their countrymen often take for granted.
I always thought it was important to remind them that over 8,000 have died thus far in this war; 11,000 if you include the innocents murdered on 9/11, and over 50,000 have been wounded. That they are overwhelmingly working-class kids, the children of cops and firefighters, letter carriers and freight men, truck drivers, city and factory workers, schoolteachers, small business owners, and Walmart checkout clerks. With some exceptions they are from families short on stock portfolios and futures, but long on love of country and service to the nation. Thousands have suffered wounds since it all started, and thousands more have lost their lives, but like anyone who loses life, or limb, while serving others they are not victims as they knew what they were about and were doing what they wanted to do.
The chattering class and all those who doubt the intentions and resolve of the 1% who serve, and their families, attempt to make us out to be victims, but they are wrong. We who have served and are serving refuse their sympathy. Those of us who have lived in the dirt, sweat and struggle of the arena are not victims and will have none of that. And of the Washington elite who don’t get it, who have no idea what it is like to serve with selflessness, or be the family of one who does, we are not weary as they so often claim on our behalf. They have no idea. they have no understanding of the depth of the commitment to duty men and women like those that sit among us tonight have for this country.
That Americans like those that serve the nation in uniform — and again I include our law enforcement and first responders — never weary in the execution of their sacred duty — to serve the nation. America’s self-proclaimed and self-anointed elite need to step back and consider the depth of their own commitment to America, and strongly reconsider who they think of as heroes in America today — and take a lesson from those who had bottomless reserves of love for this country, took a vow to defend it to death.
Those with less of a sense of service to the nation seldom can understand the depth of commitment and selflessness when strong and honorable men and women step forward to look danger and adversity straight in the eye, refusing to blink, or give ground, even to their own deaths. The protected can’t begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at night. No, they are not victims, but are warriors, your warriors, and warriors are never victims. Death, or fear of death, has no power over them. Their paths are paved by sacrifice, sacrifices they gladly make for others they don’t even know. They prove themselves every day on the field of battle — for us. They fight in every corner of the globe — for us. They live to fight — for America, and they never rest or grow weary of the task.
I end by saying to you all here tonight that when future generations ask why America is still free and Islamic hatred and extremism — of al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, and their terrorist allies — was ultimately defeated and did not triumph over the West, and wars with other potential adversaries have been deterred, America’s hometown heroes — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Guardians, Coast Guardsman, and Marines — can say “because of me and people like me who risked all to protect millions — millions who will never know our names.” And together with those families that have lost the light of their lives, every family can say to every American that “it was my boy, or my girl, who stood their post, and did their duty — for you. Please make their sacrifice for you worth their loss to me.”
And ladies and gentlemen, we can never forget them and what they did for the nation, as to do so would be nothing less than betrayal. The government with all its programs can only do so much, and the bureaucracy is often times crushing, so it’s up to us as citizens to fill in where official help ends but the need still exists. That’s why Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation is so critically important. Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation focuses help on the specific need of the veteran and his or her family, and what makes it better is that it is done with love, respect, and eternal gratitude for what they did — for us.
Thank you, John and Karen Kelly, for your considerable service and sacrifice.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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