Francis Kelly was born on 5 July 1860 in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the US Navy from that state and served as a Watertender in the collier Merrimac during the Spanish-American War. Kelly was one of eight volunteer crew members when Rear Admiral William T. Sampson ordered Merrimac sunk to block the entrance of Santiago Harbor, Cuba. On the night of 2-3 June 1898, during the courageous attempt to execute this mission, Merrimac's steering gear was disabled by enemy gunfire, and she sank without obstructing navigation. Her crewmen were rescued by the Spanish and made prisoners-of-war. After the Battle of Santiago de Cuba destroyed the Spanish fleet a month later, Kelly and his shipmates were released. For his "extraordinary heroism" during this operation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Francis Kelly remained in the Navy after the Spanish-American War, ultimately obtaining the rank of Chief Machinist's Mate. He died on 19 May 1938 in Glasgow, Scotland and is buried at Glasgow's Sandymount Cemetery.
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