‘Amazing how much God did for me’: 94-year-old Korean War veteran reflects on struggles, triumphs

Johnnie Kelly received two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart during his time in the Army

Korean War veteran Johnnie Kelly, 94 (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – He may be 94 years old, but Korean War veteran Johnnie Kelly’s memory is sharper than most people half his age.

He can easily tell you his service serial number and the day he received it – Sept. 12, 1952.

“I spent one year, one month and 15 days in Korea,” Kelly recently said, remembering his time serving in the U.S. Army where he was drafted. In that relatively short time in the Army, Kelly received two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

Kelly was drafted into the military and found himself in the Korean War shortly after.

During the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953, Kelly said his unit was 30 miles north of the 38th parallel into North Korea, sleeping in what he described as a “two by four...2 foot wide, 4 foot deep.”

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On April 18, 1953, Kelly remembers the brutal battle on Pork Chop Hill – officially designated “Hill 255″ – and the scars that come with fighting in a war. He said his company went up the west end of the hill and came out the east end. When they did, only four were able to walk off uninjured.

“It was cold, miserable and dangerous the whole time I was there,” Kelly recalls. “You know, people talk about that was a conflict but from my point of view, it was a war. Because the same they do in that conflict – if you want to call it – they did in a war. What they did, they killed you. And that was it.”

Kelly recalls serving with a young man that joined the service when he was around 16 or 17 years old, possibly using someone else’s identification to join. He said when the boy’s mother found out, the Red Cross promised her the boy would never be sent overseas.

The boy did end up in Korea, and Kelly remembered being in a trench with him one fateful day.

“I heard something funny, and he stopped talking,” Kelly said.

Kelly said a Chinese sniper took out the soldier in an instant.

That death stuck with Kelly for many years and he said he suffered a nervous breakdown and did some “stupid things.” The VA treated him with medication for years that didn’t work, until one day he met a VA psychologist who would change his life.

Kelly recalled what she said, like it was yesterday. She told him “we” are going to get rid of it.

“I had it, and she said ‘we,’” Kelly said.

She told Kelly that when he remembered and had bad thoughts to tell himself, “No, no I don’t have that because you’re not with me no more.”

He remembers the psychologist sitting in the corner and saying these words, “I’m not taking you with me. I’m leaving you here.”

Every time he thought about it, he was supposed to say those words, and he did. He admits that he had to get rid of all of that “stuff” in his head, so he wouldn’t have it anymore – to carry that burden.

Kelly admits that it sounds silly and acknowledges it may not work for everyone, but it worked for him.

“If you have something that’s not right, get rid of it, if you can get rid of it by doing that,” Kelly said. “People can help you, but you gotta help yourself ... The people don’t have the problem. You got it.”

Johnnie and Louisa Kelly (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Kelly was married for 54 years to his wife Louisa, who passed away in 2008. They had one daughter together and they have one grandson and three great-grandchildren.

“It’s amazing how much God did for me,” Kelly said.

Kelly isn’t allowed to drive his beloved truck anymore, but you may catch him cruising the streets of Deltona on his motorized scooter, waving to friends and strangers alike.

If you happen to find yourself in a conversation with him, get comfortable. You may not be going anywhere for a while.

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About the Author:

Jacob joined ClickOrlando.com in 2022. He spent 19 years at the Orlando Sentinel, mostly as a photojournalist and video journalist, before joining Spectrum News 13 as a web editor and digital journalist in 2021.