He felt sorry for the Japanese people but he did what was necessary.
World War II veteran Raymond Russell Kelly who flew over 35 bombing missions to mainland Japan in 1945 shared his experience with Marianas Variety and Kyodo News in an interview at the American Memorial Park on June 13, 2014.
They were in high stakes missions and they were met with staunch opposition by the Japanese.
“They gave us a lot of opposition, particularly, over Mitsubishi [Plant], in Nagoya I should say,” said Russell.
Asked by Kyodo News how he felt about the people down on the ground impacted by the firebombing missions, “It bothered me. In order to win the war, we figured we had to do it.”
Remorseful, Kelly said, “I felt very sorry for the Japanese people living in Tokyo because some of them were not involved in this. But they lived close to everything else and there was nothing we could do about it.”
Kelly was among the six WWII veterans, both Japanese and Americans, who returned to Saipan in June 2014 to participate in the commemoration of the 70th year of the Battle of Saipan/Tinian. He was accompanied by his children.
Arriving on June 9, 2014, he was welcomed at the Saipan International Airport by the 70th Anniversary committee members Gordon Marciano and this reporter and the Marianas Visitors Authority group.
His daughter, Maribeth, in an interview with Marianas Variety, said they were “proud of my father and the role he played in preserving our country’s freedom.”
Kelly served in the 482nd Squadron, 505th Bomb Group, 313th Bomb Wing and was stationed at the North Field on Tinian which at the time was the world’s largest operational airbase. For his service, he was given the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other military awards.
Ceremony on Tinian
Meanwhile, he was honored on Tinian in a separate ceremony.
In an interview over there, Kelly wanted the people to remember those “who took off from this field in B-29’s and didn’t come back. We lost a lot of them. I feel very, very lucky to have been a part of a crew that flew more than 35 missions over Japan.”
The difficult missions
According to Maribeth, her father remembered mostly the missions, getting shot at, and not knowing whether the plane could hold it together for landing.
She told this reporter the story her father relayed to them about the Shimonoseki Mission. “It was supposed to be an easy mission as nothing would be there. As the navigator he (Kelly) had control of the plane laying the mines, the pilot wanted to know if he knew where they were as they had spot lights on them and we’re taking heavy flack. As soon as they finished laying the mines, the pilot took over and with great skill got them out of there.”
The day after their Shimonoseki mission, Kelly and the crew discovered that their plane had been riddled with holes; they had encountered a storm of flak.
Raymond Kelly said, “Although we got a lot of holes in our planes, none of us were ever touched. I think that’s amazing. I think God must have been looking out for us.”
Kelly and the rest of the crew didn’t know that a Japanese aircraft carrier was in the area.
Maribeth also shared how her father’s experience as they were firebombing in mainland Japan. “There were a huge up and down drafts from the fires started by planes in front of them. They would all of a sudden be lifted 500-1000 feet in the air, and just as suddenly dropped back down. It was very frightening, they didn’t pay much attention to the altitude while it was happening as they were busy holding on! The pilot was one of the best dad ever flew with, he had been an instructor pilot before being sent overseas. After the war he never contacted any of the crew or went to a reunion.”
Kelly thanked Saipan, Tinian
At a public forum held at the American Memorial Park on Saipan in 2014, Kelly expressed his gratitude to the people of the islands for their hospitality.
“I would like to thank all the local people for being so kind and welcomed us so much over here. I think they have done a fantastic job. I can’t get over the ever-lasting welcome that we’ve had every place we went. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart,” he said.
He also expressed appreciation for the memorials on island. “I want to thank them for the memorials they’ve done for those who were gone. We should never forget those people. If they had not done what they had done, neither one of us would probably be here today.”
He also thanked all those who served, and all those who lost their lives in the service. “I think we owe them a lot and we should pray for them.”
Raymond Kelly passed away on Feb. 1, 2016
According to his obituary, Kelly passed away on Feb. 1, 2016. He was 93.
Born on March 29, 1922 in San Francisco, Kelly was 21 and attending Santa Clara University when he was called into service. He joined the Army Air Corps in May 1943. Following the completion of his navigator training, he was assigned to a B-29 bomber and was sent to Tinian. He also served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and later in the U.S. Air Force from 1942 to 1970.