Retired July 18, 1964. Died July 8, 1979.
Gen. Joe William Kelly, who assumed command of the U.S. Air Force's Military Air Transport Service June 1, 1960, as a lieutenant general, was promoted to full general June 6, 1963. He became the first four-star commander of MATS, the global airlift command he is credited with moving into the jet age. In 1961 he personally piloted the first jet aircraft assigned to MATS on its maiden voyage from the Boeing factory at Renton, Wash., to MATS Eastern Transport Air Force at McGuire AFB, N.J. Now, squadrons of these high-speed aircraft, the C-135 Stratolifter, are operating from both coasts.
One of his first tasks as the new MATS commander in 1960 was to supervise a massive mercy airlift to Chile where he had served 20 years earlier as a member of the U.S. Military Mission. He was then a captain.
Since then the general has completed a tour of most MATS bases in the United States, Far East, Europe, Africa and the Middle East to study first hand his command in action. He also has inspected MATS operations in Antarctica on Operation Deep Freeze 1962 and has been on the scene of several long-range airlift exercises to see the giant airlift aircraft he commands, at work.
During these and other trips he has compiled nearly 1,700 hours in the air, bringing his service total to nearly 9,700 flying hours.
He has guided MATS through the long-term Congo Airlift of troops and supplies for the United Nations, and through complex airlift requirements during the October 1962 Cuban crisis buildup.
Also under his direction, MATS has assumed a top role in the direction of reserve forces - the command is assigned supervision for training and inspection of about 250 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units with an authorized strength of almost 32,000 people. It also controls about 9,400 Mobilization Day, or individually assigned, reservists.
For his interest in and support of the Air Reserve Forces, General Kelly was chosen for the "Minuteman Hall of Fame" award for 1962 by the Reserve Officers Association.
Before coming to MATS, the general was commander of the Air Proving Ground Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. His promotion to lieutenant general was concurrent with the assumption of his new command.
General Kelly was born in Waverly, Ind., in 1910. He was graduated from high school in Martinsville, Ind., in 1927 and attended DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., for one year. In 1928 he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and graduated in June 1932 as a second lieutenant in the Infantry.
After completing flying school in 1933, General Kelly was assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Mich., the same unit to which Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was assigned in World War I, and whose hat-in-the-ring insignia is still borne by a jet fighter-interceptor squadron of the Air Defense Command. From February to May 1934, General Kelly was an air mail pilot for the Army Air Corps, flying from Newark, N.J., and Columbus, Ohio. Later he instructed student pilots at Randolph Field, Texas.
Transferred to Santiago, Chile, in 1940, he was a member of the U.S. Military Mission there for three years. He returned to MacDill Field, Fla. for six months and in June 1943 was transferred to the European theater. In January 1944, now a full colonel, he became commander of the 386th Bomb Group (Medium), 9th Air Force, a B-26 medium bomber unit. While under General Kelly's leadership, this group attained the most outstanding record of any B-26 unit in the European theater in number of successful sorties flown, tonnage of bombs dispatched, and enemy aircraft destroyed while at the same time maintaining the highest bombing accuracy score.
Upon General Kelly's departure from the group, he received this commendation from his division commander: "I commend you particularly for your aggressive leadership while commanding the 386th Bombardment Group (M). This aggressive leadership, together with your efficient administration of the group, was directly responsible for its receiving a unit citation awarded for compiling the outstanding record made by any medium bombardment group during its first year of operations in this theater."
General Kelly remained in Europe in command and staff positions until December 1944 when he returned to West Point as director of aviation.
He enrolled in the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. in the summer of 1946. After graduation, he was an instructor and then chief of Plans and Operations Division.
In January 1948, the general began a 5 1/2 year association with the Strategic Air Command, commanding various SAC bomber units including the Far East Air Forces Bomber Command at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
In 1953, he was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C., as director of Legislative Liaison. In this position he was responsible for development of public laws affecting the Air Force and for furthering Air Force relations with Congress. For his exceptional service in this position, General Kelly was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Air Force James Douglas.
On July 21, 1958, General Kelly assumed command of the Air Proving Ground Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
His other decorations include, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with nine oak leaf clusters, the Belgian and French Croix de Guerre, the British Distinguished Service Order, the Chilean Legion of Merit, the Army Commendation Ribbon and others.