Sgt. E-5, 11B40 Light Weapons Infantry, Vietnam Era
Medals and Awards:National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two campaign stars, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, Overseas Service Bar, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Infantryman's Badge, Sharpshooter Badge M-16, Expert Badge M-14, First Class Badge with V Device, Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster
Wounded in Action: February 11, 1970 against enemy hostile forces, received fragment wounds both legs and left hand
Thomas McKelvey, U.S. Army
Married: Dec. 28, 1968, to Joanne (Gullo) at St. Anthony's Parish in Fredonia
Children: Christopher, Lori Carr
Grandchildren: Benjamin, Elijah, Natalie
Thomas H. McKelvey was born on April 25, 1946, at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, the son of Harry and Arlene (Skinner). His family resided at 53 Newton St., Fredonia.
His dad worked at the Fredonia Post Office as a postal delivery man. Tom's father Harry received the Silver Star for heroism while serving in the Marine Corps as a corporal during the invasion of Okinawa. He grew up with his brother Richard; these two were always together while they were kids.
School time came and one could find McKelvey attending Fredonia's elementary classes at the Fredonia Normal School. While in high school, McKelvey was often practicing his golf swing. Golf was the game he excelled in, so he was on the greens as often as he could be. It was evident that anyone could see his goal was to drop off as many strokes as he could from his game.
When he wasn't on the golf course, he could be found with his friends Steve Cobb, George Borzelleri, Bill Lesch, Jim Alirius and Gene Fisher. The groups always hung out and just did the things that teenage boys of that time did. After graduating from Fredonia High School he was off to Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
At Washington University, his interest was in the political science field. After completing his classes there, he was off to Cornell University to study law. During the summer months he found a job right down his alley. He landed a summer position in the Club House at the Hillview Golf Course.
In 1968 after just starting law school McKelvey was drafted, along with local friend Dan Polowy. The two new Fredonia soldiers were off to Fort Dix in New Jersey for basic Army boot camp training. After boot camp, he returned home for leave and while on leave on Dec. 28, 1968, he and Joanne (Gullo) became husband and wife at a ceremony in St. Anthony's Church in Fredonia.
With his new bride came new orders. He was now off to Fort Polk, La. He received advanced combat training to prepare himself for a tour of duty in Southeast Asia. His tour of duty was in a small country called Vietnam.
While at Fort Polk he was trained in all the Army's basic weapons that were being used in Vietnam. They included the M16 rifle, the .30-caliber machine guns, the .50-caliber machine gun, hand grenades, the M-79 grenade launcher, and the .45-caliber pistol. Advanced training lasted eight weeks and it was nonstop where one had to learn everything about fighting a new type of warfare.
Unlike Korea and World War II, fighting was being done in jungles, rice paddies, and small villages that were secured during the day by U.S. forces and the VietCong and North Vietnamese army took control of when the sun set. Completing advanced infantry training gave him a 30-day leave with orders to report to his new duty station, Saigon, South Vietnam.
The trip to Vietnam logged McKelvey in with a lot of air miles. Leaving the states from Fort Lewis, Wash., he got to see a little of Alaska, Japan and finally ended up in Saigon, South Vietnam.
Saigon is a city in South Vietnam that no longer is listed on any world maps because after the Vietnam War, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City to honor North Vietnam's leader during the 10-year war.
On arriving in Vietnam and reporting to headquarters battalion, he received his orders to report to the commanding officer Bravo Co. 6th, 31st battalion infantry. His duties were rifleman. He was assigned to his new platoon that at the time were assigned to the Dong Tam area. The duties of Bravo Co. 6th, 31st BN were to walk patrols to provide security from Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army soldiers that at night would come into the villages and take whatever they wanted to supply their needs in fighting and harassing the U.S. military in their areas.
The duties of rifleman platoons were to walk, search and destroy missions during the day and look for enemy bunkers, stashes and anything the enemy was planning to use to attack American bases. Most of the patrols he walked were confirmed enemy routes that the North Vietnamese Army took in returning from the south back to their homes in the north.
When not on search and destroy patrols Bravo Co. set up a lot of ambushes hoping to catch a squad or platoon of enemy soldiers returning either home for re-assignment or coming south to meet up with larger North Vietnamese Army or Vietcong units that were forming to overrun some U.S. or Army Republic Vietnam combat base. McKelvey's tour kept him out of the secure perimeter during the night and inside the perimeter during the day.
On most of the patrols, he carried the M-79 grenade launcher. This was a weapon that looked like a sawed-off shotgun with a barrel the size of a tennis ball tub. Experienced soldiers like him could place a grenade about 100 yards with great accuracy. This weapon would launch grenades further than a man could fling it and Army soldiers with experience with the M-79 grenade launcher could with accuracy place these grenades through a small window, between openings of a cave or even in a tree to take out a sniper.
All Army and Marine units in Vietnam had M-79 grenade launchers attached to their units. When asked what he carried while on patrol, McKelvey replied all combat gear that was required before leaving the perimeter line. This included a helmet with liner, flack jacket, gas mask, bayonet, 3-C rations, five canteens, halazone tablets, mini first aid kit entrenching tool, and 35 m-79 rounds. The 35 rounds included high explosive smoke used to cover troops, white phosphorus and bee hives which were rounds that were full of fish hooked arrows that scattered when exploded.
Also when on bigger patrols everyone carried extra M-60 or 50 caliber rounds or a couple of 60 mm mortar rounds. Riflemen worked as a unit and while outside the wire put their lives in the hands of the rifleman next to him.
On Oct. 19, 1969, McKelvey distinguished himself by heroism in connection with ground operations against hostile enemy forces while serving as a squad leader with Company B, 6th battalion, 31st infantry, third brigade, ninth infantry division. The citation read that on this date while his squad was on a night ambush it came in contact with a small VietCong force after a brief firefight. Spc. McKelvey left the night position with a scout to search the area for more Vietcong and discarded weapons left behind. After venturing 50 meters from the night location a VietCong jumped up 20 meters from him and chased him. Specialist McKelvey immediately opened fire and eliminated the enemy. His actions were keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflected great credit upon himself, his unit and the U.S. Army.
On Feb. 11, 1970, while serving with the ninth infantry unit he received wounds to both of his legs and left hand while in combat with enemy hostile forces. Upon being wounded he was taken by Medivac to a battalion aid station in Vietnam and was then transferred to a U.S. Army hospital in Japan.
After his service to our country was completed McKelvey returned home and as all local vets did, he picked up and restarted his life. A life that was now in a world that had not seen killings and death every day.
He returned home, started his family and currently runs a law firm in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area. This story illustrates the bravery of this veteran who stopped his education so he could do his duty to his country in the Vietnam War. This war wasn't a popular war.
In 1969 you couldn't fly home from San Francisco in a military uniform during the daytime because it would upset some passengers. A war that was on TV - always reporting that we are in a war that we can't win - yet men were still forced to go to it.
Tom McKelvey, another local veteran who just did his job and did it well. His life had a plan. His country interrupted it. He did his duty, came home and continued on with his life. For this Thomas McKelvey is our Hero of the Week.