NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- "Raise your right hand and repeat after me."
Every service member hears these words prior to taking the oath, but few hear them from a Medal of Honor recipient. Machinist's Mate 1st Class Pauljames Salas, with Coastal Riverine Squadron 8 in Newport, Rhode Island, is one of the few who has.
Salas reenlisted Feb. 16 at the Naval War College Museum in front of a dozen shipmates and leadership, and had the honor of being administered the oath of enlistment by retired Navy Capt. Thomas Kelley, Medal of Honor recipient. (See below for complete award citation). Salas, who was born in Guam and considers Visalia, California, home, originally joined the Navy as an engineman and was converted to machinist's mate May 2013. He has been a proud member of CORIVRON 8 since April 2014 and is currently a maintenance and material management (3M) assistant responsible for ensuring critical equipment in nine geographic locations remains fully operational. Having a riverine officer from the early days of riverine operations on the base to participate and spend time with the unit was an honor.
"This is a great moment for the Navy and a great time to be in the Navy," Kelley told Salas following the reenlistment.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Baker, CORIVRON 8 chief of staff, thanked Kelley for taking part in the ceremony.
"Thank you for doing this for us, sir," he said. "The whole squadron appreciates this -- a man with your history as a riverine coming here. Not a lot of people know what we're going through and what we do, so it's nice to have the good fortune to meet you."
Following the reenlistment, Kelley gave a 40-minute talk followed by a question and answer session. His talk was not just on the event in 1969 which led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor, but also on what motivated him to join the Navy and some of the assignments and experiences he had over his 30-year career.
"One of the biggest takeaways I want you to remember," he told the audience which included many young Sailors from CORIVRON 8, "is don't be threatened by your senior enlisted or those who know more than you do. Take advantage of them and learn from them."
"I had an older cousin who was a Marine on Iwo Jima; he was always a hero of mine growing up," Kelley continued. "One of my warrants (chief warrant officers), Leroy Hagan, had been on a diesel submarine in World War II. He was the calmest, most generous mentor I ever had, but thinking about what he went through was really sobering. I saw the power of the Chiefs Mess early on in my career."
Kelley was on the base at the invitation of the Navy Exchange to promote a new edition of the bestselling book "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty." Kelley is no stranger to Navy Newport and actually attended Officer Candidate School here following his graduation from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1960. He served on several ships homeported in Newport including landing craft repair ship USS Pandemus (ARL-18), and destroyers USS Davis (DD-937) and USS Stickell (DD-888). It was aboard Stickell he experienced his first deployment in Vietnam in 1966. He returned from that deployment and volunteered for the riverine squadron.
"We had training at Mare Island shipyard and deployed using converted LCM 6s -- old World War II boats that went 6 knots with a current -- and you could hear them coming from 2 clicks (kilometers) away," he said. "They reinforced them with rebar and Styrofoam, which actually worked pretty good."
Kelley was gravely wounded in Vietnam, including losing an eye.
"After I was wounded the Navy wanted to get me out; I told them I wouldn't get out," he added. "They told me I could stay in as a restricted line officer, but I wanted to be an unrestricted line officer. It's every surface warfare officer's dream to command a ship, so I went whining to Admiral [Elmo] Zumwalt, who was CNO (chief of naval operations) at the time and knew me from Vietnam, and told him they are trying to kick me out and he said, 'Don't worry about that.' I stayed in for another 20 years."
A true example of honor, courage, and commitment.
Medal of Honor Citation
Date of Incident: June 15, 1969, Vietnam
Date of Aware: May 14, 1970
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in the afternoon while serving as commander of River Assault Division 152 during combat operations against enemy aggressor forces. Lt. Cmdr. (then Lt.) Kelley was in charge of a column of 8 river assault craft which were extracting 1 company of U.S. Army infantry troops on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province, when 1 of the armored troop carriers reported a mechanical failure of a loading ramp. At approximately the same time, Viet Cong forces opened fire from the opposite bank of the canal. After issuing orders for the crippled troop carrier to raise its ramp manually, and for the remaining boats to form a protective cordon around the disabled craft, Lt. Cmdr. Kelley realizing the extreme danger to his column and its inability to clear the ambush site until the crippled unit was repaired, boldly maneuvered the monitor in which he was embarked to the exposed side of the protective cordon in direct line with the enemy's fire, and ordered the monitor to commence firing. Suddenly, an enemy rocket scored a direct hit on the coxswain's flat, the shell penetrating the thick armor plate, and the explosion spraying shrapnel in all directions. Sustaining serious head wounds from the blast, which hurled him to the deck of the monitor, Lt. Cmdr. Kelley disregarded his severe injuries and attempted to continue directing the other boats. Although unable to move from the deck or to speak clearly into the radio, he succeeded in relaying his commands through 1 of his men until the enemy attack was silenced and the boats were able to move to an area of safety. Lt. Cmdr. Kelley's brilliant leadership, bold initiative, and resolute determination served to inspire his men and provide the impetus needed to carry out the mission after he was medically evacuated by helicopter. His extraordinary courage under fire, and his selfless devotion to duty sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
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