SN John W. O’Kelley
River Assault Division 111, River Assault Squadron ELEVEN, River Assault Flotilla ONE, Task Force 117 (TF-117). Seaman O’Kelley’s craft, Assault Support Patrol Boat 111-1 (ASPB-111-1), was engaged in minesweeping operations ahead of a column of River Assault Craft with embarked infantry personnel on the Ong Huong River of Kien Hoa Province when reconnaissance-by-fire delivered by ASPB 111-1 triggered a Viet Cong ambush from both sides of the narrow river. Sustaining recoilless-rifle and rocket hits in the first few minutes of the ambush, which killed the Boat Captain and the Coxswain, Seaman O’Kelley’s boat went out of control and careened from bank to bank. Realizing the immediate peril to his boat and its surviving crew members, Seaman O’Kelley left his position of relative safety as a thirty-caliber machine gunner in the stern of the boat and dashed forward under a hail of enemy fire to attempt to bring the boat under control. Driven back by flames, and unable to enter the coxswain’s flat because casualties inside were blocking the door, he crawled over the top of the boat to the canopy over the coxswain’s flat. After cutting through the heavy canopy in the face of continuing hostile fire, Seaman O’Kelley entered the control area, restarted one of the stalled engines, and gained partial steering control. He then brought the boat alongside the Medical Aid Boat where he rendered assistance to critically wounded personnel and helped remove them for prompt evacuation by helicopter. Had Seaman O’Kelley not taken action instantly to regain control of his boat, the entire column of River Assault Craft could have been trapped in the ambush zone, and suffered heavy casualties and disruption of the entire operation. By his heroic actions and courage under fire, Seaman O’Kelley upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals
Action Date: 26-May-68
Company: Assault Support Patrol Boat 111-1 (ASPB-111-1)
Battalion: River Assault Division 111
Regiment: River Assault Squadron 11, River Assault Flotilla 1
Division: Task Force 117 (TF-117)