Demetrius John Vellis was born in San Francisco, California, on 8 June 1916, son of John D. and Rose Earl (Whelan) Vellis. He attended Lowell High School in San Francisco, Cochran-Bryan Preparatory School, Annapolis, Maryland, and was a member of the Organized Naval Reserve in San Francisco for two years, prior to receiving his appointment, from his native state, to the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, in 1936. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 3 June 1940, he subsequently progressed in rank to that of Captain to date from 1 July 1959.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1940, he joined USS Colorado for six months’ service and in January 1941 reported as Assistant Gunnery Officer of USS Dale. He was serving as Communications Officer of that destroyer, moored at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, when the Japanese attacked the Naval Base there on 7 December 1941. The Dale got underway undamaged, and patrolled the entrance to Pearl Harbor, during which time she was credited with shooting down one dive bomber and probably a second. Continuing duty in the Dale, he became Gunnery Officer in June 1942 and in that capacity participated in the surface engagement with a superior Japanese force off the Komandorski Islands in the Aleutians in March 1943. The battle lasted four hours and is considered one of the longest surface actions during the war.
Returning to the United States in the summer of 1943, he assisted in the fitting out of USS Stephen Potter. He joined that destroyer as Executive Officer upon her commissioning 21 October 1943 and in January 1945 was detached to attend the course in applied communications at the Postgraduate School, Annapolis, Maryland. Between January 1946 and August 1948 he was Flag Secretary to Commander Battleship-Cruiser Force, US Pacific Fleet, after which he served in the Logistics Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, DC.
In November 1950 he assumed command of USS Bassett, which had been reactivated and re-commissioned at Green Cove Springs, Florida, and in February 1952, became Commanding Officer of the destroyer Philip. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, for “meritorious service as Commanding Officer on board the USS PHILIP during combat operations against enemy North Korean and Chinese Communist forces in the Korean Theater from November 20, 1952 to May 16, 1953…” The citation further states in part:
“…During this period, the PHILIP was engaged in bombardment of enemy positions on the east coast of Korea and in screening operations with Task Force SEVENTY SEVEN. His outstanding judgment and professional confidence contributed immeasurably to the success of the PHILIP in its assigned missions and materially aided in the destruction of many enemy military installations and transportation facilities…”
He reported in June 1953 as Pacific Fleet Enlisted Distribution Officer on the Staff of Commander Service Force, US Pacific Fleet, and from January 1957 to July 1958 served as Executive Officer of USS Rochester (CA-124), which for six months of that period was Flagship of Commander SEVENTH Fleet. Returning to the Naval Academy, he headed the Academic Division for one year and the Foreign Language Department for two years. While there he instituted a new leadership instruction program for midshipmen.
In July 1961 he assumed command of USS Mathews (AKA-96) and in August 1962 was detached to serve as Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla ELEVEN. In August 1963 he became Commanding Officer of the Naval Communications Station, Honolulu, Hawaii.
In addition to the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Captain Vellis has the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two silver stars and one bronze star (eleven engagements); World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; China Service Medal; Korean Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal; and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. He also had the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation.