Staff Sgt. Jonah E. Kelley, a West Virginian serving with Company E, 311th Infantry, 78th Infantry Division, was killed in action as his squad spearheaded furious house to house fighting in Kesternich, Germany, on 31 January 1945. On the 30th, he had led his squad through intense mortar and small arms fire in repeated assaults against barricaded German positions. Twice wounded-once in the back and once in the left hand- he had refused all but initial first aid; continued to lead his men forward; and, after clearing the way to one house by using hand grenades-pulling the pin with his teeth and tossing the explosive with his good arm- he had forced snipers to vacate a second house with his impaired, but still accurate, rifle fire. That night, he had sought medical attention; but, with dawn on the 31st, he had rejoined his squad as it continued its advance through the town. Twice that morning, he had located and silenced enemy positions. In dealing with the second, a machine gun in a heavily protected house, he ordered his squad to remain low; then dashed into the open and attacked the position. Hit several times, he fell to his knees 25 yards short of his objective; but,summoning extra strength, he emptied his rifle into the enemy position and silenced it before he died. For his courage, leadership, and sacrifice, Sgt. Kelley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
(APC-116: dp. 6,090 (f.) ; l. 338'9"; b. 50'4"; dr. 17' 7"; s. 11.5 k.; cpl. 48; trp. 101; cl. Jonah E. Kelley; T. C1-M-AV1)
Sgt. Jonah E. Kelley, built as Link Splice under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 2489), was laid down on 29 January 1945 by the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corp., Savannah, Ga.; launched on 17 March 1945; sponsored by Mrs. L. W. Grothaus; and delivered to the War Shipping Administration for operation by the Moore-McCormack Line on 28 August 1945.
Less than a year later, Link Splice was returned to WSA; and, on 20 June 1946, she was transferred to the Army for use as a coastal cargo ship. Renamed Sgt. Jonah E. Kelley on 31 October 1947, the ship served the Army Transportation Service as an XAKc until the spring of 1948. Conversion followed; and, during her last year of Army service, she carried passengers and cargo.
In October of 1949, the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) was established. Five months later, the converted C1-MKAV1 was transferred to the Navy for MSTS use; placed in service as USNS Sgt. Jonah E. Kelley (T-APC-116) ; and assigned to North Atlantic operations. For almost a decade, she carried passengers and limited cargo from east coast ports, primarily New York, to northern bases, primarily Argentia and St. Johns, Nfld. In November 1959, her passenger service was discontinued; and she commenced cargo runs between the same ports which, with few interruptions, she continued for another 10 years.
In November 1969, Sgt. Jonah E. Kelley was replaced by Mirfak; and, on the 24th, she returned to New York for the last time. She was then placed out of service and inactivation was begun. In late December, she was shifted to Norfolk; and, on the 22d, she was transferred to the Maritime Administration for berthing in the James River unit of the National Defense Reserve Fleet where she remains into the fall of 1974.