Kelley was a Navy lieutenant leading a column of eight river assault craft on a mission to extract infantry soldiers from a riverbank when the boats came under enemy fire in 1969 in Kien Hoa Province.
Kelley ordered his boats to form a protective barrier around a crippled troop carrier and exposed his own boat to enemy fire while directing fire against the enemy ambush. Despite suffering head injuries, Kelley continued to direct his forces until the enemy attack was silenced.
Kelley overcame his injuries and continued to serve in the surface fleet. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1970. After his military service, he joined the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, becoming secretary in 2003.
Having served on warships, and as an executive officer and commanding officer of a frigate, Kelley, 83, of Somerville, Massachusetts, said he understands the distinction of having a ship bear his name.
“It is a tremendous honor and I am truly humbled, especially as a surface warfare sailor,” he said in a statement.
The warship, DDG-140, was funded in the fiscal 2023 budget. It’ll be built at a shipyard in either in Maine or Mississippi.