Charles E. (Commando) Kelly, 64, a World War II veteran whose 11 decorations for valor included the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest -- seemingly brought him fame and a degree of fortune, died Jan. 11 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh after bowel surgery and a heart attack.
Enlisting in the Army in his native Pittsburgh, he became one of the war's real heroes. He wrote a book about his exploits, "One Man's War," for which he received a reported $40,000. The book also was excerpted in the Saturday Evening Post magazine and made into a motion picture.
During the battle for Salerno, Italy, he took on a German platoon single-handedly, enabling his own unit to retreat to safety. During the fight it was estimated that he killed more than 40 German soldiers.
When he earned his Medal of Honor, Mr. Kelly was a lowly corporal in the 36th (Texas) Infantry Division and taking part in the bloody landings at Salerno. This was the first invasion by the western Allies on mainland Europe and it claimed the lives of 7,000 of his division's 15,000 officers and men.
He ended the war with 10 decorations for valor in addition to the Medal of Honor. These included two Silver Star and two Bronze Star medals. By the end of the war, he was receiving the keys to cities and being hailed in parades. Yet the end of the war was only the beginning of his struggles.
First, he tried operating a gas station and then working as a painter, but by the mid-1950s was living in a public housing project in Kentucky. With the help of some old friends, he managed to return to Pittsburgh about 1970 and lived there, working as a self-employed house painter until his death. His first wife died of cancer and his second marriage ended in divorce.
But if the peace was harsh for him, the war had been glorious. The citation for his Medal of Honor said that near Altavilla, Italy, he "voluntarily joined a patrol that located and neutralized enemy machine gun positions." He later attempted to make contact with another Allied unit, a mile distant. Upon reaching the hill where they were supposed to be dug in, he found that German troops had occupied it. After reporting this, he again volunteered for patrol, helped destroy two more enemy machine-gun nests "under conditions requiring great skill and courage. Having fired his weapon until all the ammunition was exhausted, he secured permission to obtain more at an ammunition dump," the citation said.
Upon reaching the dump, he found that it had become a target for German attacks. After loading up on ammunition, he was given permission to guard the rear of the storehouse. The citation went on, "He held his position throughout the night. The following morning the enemy attack was resumed. Cpl. Kelly took a position at an open window of the storehouse. One machine gunner had been killed at this position and several other soldiers wounded. Cpl. Kelly delivered continuous aimed and effective fire upon the enemy with his automatic rifle until the weapon locked from overheating. Finding another automatic rifle, he again directed effective fire upon the enemy until this weapon also locked.
"At this critical point," the citation continued, "with the enemy threatening to overrun the position, Cpl. Kelly picked up 60 mm mortar shells, pulled the safety pins, and used the shells as grenades. When it became imperative that the house be evacuated, Cpl. Kelly volunteered to hold the position until the remainder of his detachment could withdraw. As the detachment moved out, Cpl. Kelly was observed deliberately loading and firing a rocket launcher from the window. He was successful in covering the withdrawal of the unit."
He is survived by three sons, three daughters and seven grandchildren.