On a wall within the confines of the National Security Agency is a memorial to over 150 cryptologists from all services killed while performing cryptologic duties.  Among those names so honored are many familiar to NCVA members – those killed in the Kamiseya fire (1965), those lost during the Liberty attack (1967), those who perished in the crash of RG-407 (1971), two CTI aircrew lost in the Med (1986), and others lost in more recent conflicts, most recently CTICS Shannon Kent.  There is one name missing, however

that of Lieutenant (junior grade) James Anthony “Tony” Kelly, who perished during a catastrophic fire onboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) while serving as the NSG Detachment OIC/Division Officer. 

An effort is currently underway to rectify this omission, but additional information is needed.  So the purpose of this short article is twofold – (1) to remember the loss of Lieutenant Kelly, and (2) to hopefully gain additional information regarding his time with the Naval Security Group.  Here, then, is the story of LTjg Tony Kelly.

James Anthony Kelly, Jr. was born January 3, 1941 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, the second of four children of Doctor and Margaret (Shrine) Kelly of 200 Main Street.  He attended St. Ann’s Parish School in Phoenixville and graduated from Malvern Preparatory School in 1958.  While at Malvern Tony was active in sports (swimming, JV football, track and baseball). In his high school yearbook he is remembered as the class comedian.  Summers were spent in Ocean City, or working as a fountain tech at the Gateway Drug Store.

Following his secondary education he attended Villanova University and graduated in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics.  While at Villanova Tony was a member of several professional organizations and the Sailing Club.

After graduation, in the fall of 1963 Tony joined the Naval Reserve and was commissioned upon completion of Officer Candidate School in April 1964 as an Ensign in the unrestricted line (1105).  His first duty assignment was Naval Security Group Activity Okinawa, where he arrived in the summer 1964, after spending the Fourth of July holiday with his parents.                                                                            

In addition to duties at Hanza, Tony also served on temporary assignments with cryptologic detachments assigned to various units of the Seventh Fleet.  In the summer of 1966 he was nominated to be the NSG detachment Officer-in-Charge on the USS Oriskany (CVA-34).  Tony, with several other enlisted team members from Hanza, traveled to the Naval Communications Station in the Philippines for briefings prior to joining the Oriskany in port Subic, probably in late July 1966.

Photo:  Chaplain blesses remains during transfer ceremony in Subic Bay, Philippines (USN Photo)

The Oriskany returned to the Gulf of Tonkin and operations at Yankee Station, with a break in September for an upkeep call in Subic followed by a visit to Hong Kong.  She returned to the GOT and continued strike operations from Yankee station until a major fire occurred on board 26 October 66.

Initially caused by the mishandling of a flare, the fire quickly spread, trapping a number of crew, mostly officers, in their nearby staterooms.  Altogether there were 44 casualties, most died of asphyxiation due to the dense smoke and fumes generated by the conflagration.  Among those who perished was 25 year old Lieutenant James Anthony Kelly.

After the fire was extinguished the Oriskany left the GOT and returned to Subic, where those who had perished were transferred off the ship for return to the United States.  A Mass of Resurrection was held for Tony in his home town of Phoenixville, PA and he was interred in St. Ann’s Cemetery.

Postscript:  If you served with Lieutenant Kelly, either at Hanza or at sea, please contact LCDR Bob Morrison (USN, ret.) at cooldadoo@cox.net.  Additional information is needed to further our effort to have Tony’s name included on the memorial wall at NSA.

By LCDR Bob Morrison (USN, ret.)