FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. (NNS) -- Friends, family and colleagues gathered June 29 in the small town of Fayetteville, Tenn. to celebrate the life of and pay final respects to the 24th Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Frank B. Kelso II.
The full military honors funeral took place in Kelso's hometown at the First United Methodist Church where Kelso attended services and was integrated as a pillar of faith and devotion among the congregation. Less than a mile from the church, Kelso was laid to rest at the Rose Hill Cemetery in his family plot in the company of his beloved relatives.
Long time friend of Kelso and former naval officer of 27 years Chaplain Bill Perry helped preside over Kelso's service. Perry had a close spiritual relationship and friendship with Kelso who he said committed his life to decency, respect and integrity. Perry said that in life after the Navy, Kelso was devoted to helping spread the word of God.
"The last time I felt like this is when I buried and did this service for my mother," Perry said as he gripped the pulpit to maintain his composure, suffering from the loss of his friend.
"Today is a day we celebrate a life well lived and then we mourn heavily for ourselves," Perry said. "For the Kelso family you have to know not only is there a pain within this church and over in the overflow room, but there is pain throughout the naval community because folks who knew him and worked with him -- every person here -- knows that if you knew Admiral Kelso then you respected him, and you liked him, and if you were around him enough, you grew to love him."
More than 300 people who loved and respected Kelso were in attendance for the funeral service. Current CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert was among them.
"Admiral Frank Kelso's bold leadership and innovative thinking guided the Navy through times of war and significant draw-down at the end of the Cold War," said Greenert of the late Kelso.
"It was his strength of character and sure-fire integrity that ensured his success as a former CNO and to a higher degree solidified the formidable legacy of a great life that Admiral Frank Kelso leaves behind."
Kelso, 79, had a long and successful career in the U.S. Navy and was known for his intelligence, strong character and innovative thinking.
He was the third of three submariners in a row who served as CNO in in the 1980s and '90s. As CNO he led the Navy in a period of significant drawdown of U.S. naval forces following the Cold War. He also oversaw the introduction of new platforms and systems that improved capabilities, including precision strike operations. The nation persistently called on the naval capabilities throughout his tour, starting with Operation Desert Storm.
As CNO, he also oversaw revolutionary changes within the OPNAV staff and profoundly changed the means by which the Navy processed and made decisions. In keeping with joint staff practices, he changed "OP" codes to "N" codes, and the staff was reorganized to align with a "Napoleonic" arrangement used by both the Army and the Joint Staff. In a period of dramatic change, he helped to transform not merely the organization, but also the processes by which information could be shared and considered. He is credited with dramatically changing the means by which more informed decisions could be made by the Navy.
"The ability to cut against the grain and find new and creative solutions for the Navy are what set Admiral Kelso apart from his peers," said Greenert. "It was an honor to have served with him and we are a better Navy due to his leadership and faithful commitment to our Sailors, Civilians and their Families."
As CNO at the time of the now infamous Tailhook Convention in 1991 during which numerous incidents of sexual assault and harassment were found to have occurred, Kelso found himself at the forefront of a new horizon for the treatment of women in the military.
Tailhook was a turbulent event for the entire naval department, and precipitated support in widening of opportunities for women in the service. Kelso, a proponent of allowing women to serve in expanded roles, embraced the integration.
Upon selection for flag rank, Admiral Kelso served as Director, Strategic Submarine Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and then was assigned as Director, Office of Program Appraisal, Office of the Secretary of the Navy. On February 8, 1985, Admiral Kelso became Commander Sixth Fleet and NATO Commander Naval Striking Force and Support Forces Southern Europe. On June 30, 1986, Admiral Kelso was promoted to admiral and assumed the duties of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Admiral Kelso became Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command on November 22, 1988. He became the Navy's 24th Chief of Naval Operations on June 29, 1990.
Adm. Kelso has been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (three awards), Legion of Merit (four awards), Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals.
Kelso eventually returned to live in Fayetteville, Tenn., in 2003, a decade after retiring from the Navy. He remained there until his death on June 23, 2013.
Kelso is survived by his second wife, Georgeanna, his four children and numerous grandchildren. Landess McCown, his first wife of 56 years, passed away in 2012.