SF3c James Dennis Kelly,


SF3c James Dennis Kelly

When James Dennis Kelley’s parents were told that he was missing after the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they went into action.

His father, James F. Kelley, a 48-year-old Navy veteran, tried to re-enlist. He was rejected because he had lost hearing in one ear while serving on a destroyer during World War I.

His mother, Mary Cole Kelley, left their Oklahoma home for California. They’d heard that wounded sailors had been transported to hospitals there, and she hoped to find him.

“There are many more fathers and mothers out here doing the same as I,” she wrote to her husband.

Their son’s ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, had 1,177 men killed among a crew of 1,514. Of the survivors, most were on leave, liberty, or temporary duty somewhere else the morning of the attack. Mary Kelley knew that the odds of her son’s survival were slim. She did find the son of a worried mother from Washington State. And she heard a wild tale that sailors were still alive on the Arizona, which blew up and sank after direct hits from four Japanese 800 kilogram bombs. The rumor was that men were receiving air and food through tubes. “But I don’t much believe that story,” she wrote.

Mrs. Kelley’s  search ended on Jan. 29, 1942, when the Navy officially declared James Dennis Kelley dead. He was a shipfitter and petty officer third class.

Young Mr. Kelley was born April 7, 1921 in San Diego, California. His father was a solicitor for a tailor shop and his mother a homemaker. 

The family moved to central Oklahoma before 1930 and the father became a maintenance foreman at an oil company. Young James graduated from Bowlegs High School east of Oklahoma City in 1939. He belonged to the math club and printed the school newspaper. He was vice president of the Tuf Nex club, whose 12 boys adopted the motto “Have a good time.”

Mr. Kelley enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 9, 1939, and that October married Aldwina Parenti of nearby Seminole, Oklahoma.

In his last letter home, dated Dec. 3, he told his parents he was giving them a year’s subscription to Life magazine for Christmas. “It is not much. However, it contains in every word, every line, every paragraph, every page and every book all my love for the both of you, the dearest parents in the world.”

In the fall of 1942, the new football field at Bowlegs High was dedicated as Kelley Stadium in honor of the school’s former star player. The stadium was built of stone quarried from farms in the area and largely paid for with grants from the Works Progress Administration, a federal Depression-era jobs program. About 1,500 people crowded into the stadium, which was built for 1,000. American Legion members raised the flag and the crowd sang “America.”

Sixty-three years after her uncle’s death, Janay Due found a faded essay he’d written his senior year at Bowlegs. He mentioned the threat of foreign dictators and specifically named “Germany’s prosecution of the Jews.”  likely let to similar horrific ends

The essay began: “At a crucial moment in the history of the world, such as the one we are now passing thru, every red-blooded citizen of these United States should bow on a willing knee, bare on humble head and from a thankful heart give praise and thanks to his makers; thanks for the pure freedom which is his heritage; thanks that his existence is in a land that is free from the iron fist of the dictators; thanks for the blessing of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. To put it in brief, we should be extremely grateful for Liberty.”

Sources: The major sources for this profile were the Seminole (Oklahoma) Producer and the Seminole County News, which published several articles and photos of Mr. Kelley. Other sources include The Daily Oklahoman of Oklahoma City; California birth index; Census; Navy muster roll.
NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM