Kelly T. McCracken Jr., 81, formerly an operations officer with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Department of Health and Human Services, died of hypertension Aug. 31 at his home in Seminary Towers in Alexandria. He had lived in the Washington area for 63 years.

Mr. McCracken was born in Conway, S.C., and enlisted in the Navy at the start of World War II, just as he was graduating from high school.

During basic training at Norfolk, he contracted spinal meningitis. The Navy tried to discharge him, but Mr. McCracken insisted on staying in. When he recovered, he became a hospital corpsman, serving at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda and at the old Navy dispensary in the District.

He was assigned to the USS Achomawi and then the USS Mississinewa, an oil tanker in the Pacific. On Nov. 20, 1944, the vessel was at Ulithi lagoon in Micronesia, preparing for its role in the invasion of Okinawa, when it was hit by a Kaiten, a one-man Japanese suicide submarine. Sixty-three U.S. sailors were killed in the explosion and subsequent fire.

Mr. McCracken found himself in the water, underneath a spreading sheet of flaming oil. He had trouble finding a clear spot where he could surface and be rescued by ships in the area.

After his ordeal, he returned to the United States on survivor's leave but went back to the Pacific until his discharge at war's end. After the war, he worked for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Department and then, as a Naval Reservist, was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.

Mr. McCracken received a bachelor's degree in government and business administration from George Washington University in 1956. He attended night school for eight years to obtain his degree.

He began his career with HEW in 1954, serving with the U.S. Public Health Service. He especially enjoyed his duties with a team that inspected hospitals throughout the country to ensure that they were in compliance with guidelines of the 1946 Hill-Burton Act, the nation's major health facility construction program under Title VI of the Public Health Service Act.

"He loved that job," his wife recalled.

He retired in 1974 as an operations officer in the office of an HEW assistant secretary.

He had been a member of Scottish Rite of Freemasonry since 1960, achieving the 33rd degree, the highest attainable. He also was a Mason and a Shriner.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Dora Bradshaw McCracken of Alexandria; two children, Patricia McCracken Murphy of Burke and Kelly T. McCracken III of Toluca Lake, Calif.; and three grandchildren.