Denver Kelly graduates more than 70 years after his class at Oberlin High
When the Oberlin High School class of 2012 walks for their commencement tomorrow night at Finney Chapel, it will be the culmination of a journey that, for many, will seem like it took forever. For one graduate, though, it may seem like it took even longer than that.
Friday night, Denver Kelly, 91, of Elyria, will finally officially graduate from Oberlin High School.
Kelly took his last high school course in 1941, but when his class took part in their commencement exercises, he was in Fort Hayes in Columbus in basic training after enlisting in the National Guard.
After training, Kelly was scheduled to arrive in Africa, with the rest of the 190th Field Artillery Group in the thick of World War II. They never made it there.
“We were told, after we got ready to go to Africa, that all of our stuff was sunk,” Kelly said. “So they sent us over to Scotland. We never made it to Africa because we had nothing.”
Kelly and the rest of his unit went to Belfast, Ireland, with only the equipment they were carrying. They had to survive on what they had until they were able to recoup equipment.
While he was in Ireland, Kelly received a letter informing him he had been drafted for the war.
When he enlisted in the military service, Kelly was designated as a cook, due to his experience in Oberlin.
“I went to Green Acres Children’s Home when I was 12 years old. My mother couldn’t take care of us after our father died,” Kelly said.
While in high school, Kelly began working at Gibson’s bakery half a day and went to school the other half. He ended up living with the Gibson family after awhile, and did so until he left Oberlin for the war.
His working experience in a bakery was enough for the National Guard to designate Kelly a cook.
“I don’t think I did any cooking at all in the service,” Kelly said.
Instead, Kelly said he was a gofer while in the National Guard. He did whatever was asked of him, which actually turned out to be a lot.
While in the United Kingdom, the 190th Field Artillery Group acted as a decoy, moving from place to place all over the islands to make the Germans think the Allies had more troops and equipment than they actually did. During that time, Kelly spent most nights sleeping under the stars in numerous places, including Stonehenge.
The decoy work lasted a few years, until the Allies were ready to attempt an invasion. In June 1944 the 190th headed to Normandy to take part in the largest amphibious invasion in history; Kelly was with them.
On the second morning of the invasion, Kelly was aboard a Landing Ship Tank, or LST, and was dropped off with the rest of his unit at Omaha Beach.
Kelly was driving a Caterpillar tractor, pulling heavy artillery onto the beach, when he struck a land mine, destroying the tractor. He had to walk the rest of the way on the beach, with bullets zipping past him on all sides.
Once he got inland, he was once again without much equipment. He spent five days living in a hedgerow.
During his time in the hedgerow, he met a French family — a father, mother, and two daughters — who were hiding in the same hedge. Kelly still has letters sent from the daughters that he received after returning from Europe after the war.
Soon after, Kelly and his unit met up with General George Patton and the Third Army and marched all the way to Czechoslovakia with them. During that time, Kelly was caught in the Battle of the Bulge, where he remembers seeing German paratroopers who were so close he could reach up and grab them.
In October 1945, Kelly returned to the United States. He said he never thought much about not having received his high school diploma, until recently.
“I never actually gave it any thought at all, until some of my family started pushing me to do it,” he said. “In a way it is exciting for me. I’m finally getting my diploma, which is something I thought I should have gotten a long time ago.”