By Leeanna Ellis
A large crowd gathered Monday at the Blair Cemetery to pause and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others, including one Blair soldier who did not return from Vietnam.
The Hain-Flynn American Legion Post 154 and the Blair VFW Post 1251 hosted the annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Blair Legion Commander Steve Rounds welcomed guests to the ceremony.
“May the ceremonies of today deepen our reverence for our departed friends and comrades,” he said. “Let us renew our pledge and loyalty to our country and its flag. Let us resolve by word and deed to emphasize the privilege and duty of patriotism.”
Robbin Kelley Rasmussen shared the story of her father, Capt. Harvey P. Kelley of Blair, who served two tours during the Vietnam War — the first as an advisor to the South Vietnamese in 1967 and the second as the commanding officer of Company A, 18th Infantry regiment of the 1st Infantry Division in June 1969.
Rasmussen and her sister, Ronda Kelley Coleman, believe their father's main object was to do what he could to take care of the men he led and make sure they got home safely.
“He was very passionate about that,” Rasmussen said.
On Nov. 19, 1969, Harvey Kelley's mother, Vivian Kuhl, received a letter from her son. He and his men were on operation and had set up a booby trap when they saw a Viet Cong.
“We headed back into the woods and he walked right into our grenade. We jumped out and there was two more behind him. One was wounded, but the other tried to run so we shot him,” Kelley wrote. “I'm carrying his rifle now, an AK-47, but I'll turn it in as soon as we get back. I normally only carry a pistol, but after yesterday, I feel better with the rifle.”
Kelley told his mother he was expected to be out of the field by Dec. 5 to work an intelligence job. However, his men wanted him to stay.
“I've never lost a man yet. Three slightly wounded,” he wrote.
Before ending his letter, Kelley told his mother that they were being lifted off to another landing zone.
“I'll see you soon,” he said.
The next day, Kelley was killed in action.
“He made a decision. He decided to put those men's lives above their own like a true hero should, like a true leader,” Rasmussen said.
Kelley chose to walk point, which was against regulations for an officer.
“But he wasn't going to let one of these guys get killed on his watch because Capt. Kelley never lost a man in Vietnam,” Rasmussen said.
On Nov. 22, 1969, Rasmussen's mother received a telegram from Western Union. Her grandmother received the same telegram the next day on what would have been Kelley's 32nd birthday.
“And just like that she know longer had her oldest son, our mom no longer had her husband and us three girls no longer had our father,” she said.
Years later at the urging of one of her dad's fellow soldiers, Rasmussen, who was only 16 months old when her father was killed, traveled to Vietnam and stood in the very spot where her father died.
“As I stood there trying to wrap my head around the situation, a gentleman from one of the (nearby) homes came out and he was quite perplexed,” she said.
Her guide explained what they were doing.
“He stood back and he watched from afar and he listened,” Rasmussen said. “Although he did not understand what we were saying, he understood what we were doing.”
Prior to the trip to Vietnam, Rasmussen said she had a lot of hate and anger toward people, Vietnam and Vietnamese people.
But that man, who showed her respect, changed her life.
“I had to let go — not of Dad, but I had to let go of the hate and the anger. It was just a bunch of garbage mucking me down and making me hurt,” she said.
Kristi Rounds placed a wreath on the monument honoring Civil War soldiers in honor of all military men and women who gave the great sacrifice on behalf of the Post 154 American Legion Auxiliary.
The ceremony closed as the Blair VFW Post 1251 honor guard fired a salute and four members of the Blair High School band played “Taps.”