Archie Kelley is one of the few Pearl Harbor heroes alive in the nation and he proudly resides in Arizona at Sagewood Senior Living. On July 31, Archie celebrated his 104th birthday, and his lifetime of family milestones and serving in the U.S. Navy have shaped his legacy.
Archie’s story begins in 1918 when he was born into a military family. Little did he know when graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in February 1941, that he would become a war hero and save hundreds of lives.
Archie was sent to serve at Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii. He originally was excited to be stationed on the tropical island but that quickly faded after the Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, just a few months after Archie moved to the island.
That fateful Sunday, Capt. Archie Kelley (then Ensign) was responsible for controlling the damage caused to the USS West Virginia naval ship. This task was nearly impossible due to the flooding. Archie ordered his men to close the ship’s watertight doors just before seven torpedoes impacted the USS West Virginia.
Thanks to Archie’s quick thinking and perseverance, he was able to prevent the ship from rolling over and becoming another battleship permanently lost at sea. His actions saved potentially 400 lives that day. The story does not end there—as the battle continued, Archie moved to the bottom of the ship to combat flooding. He and 40 other sailors were trapped inside the station, and he feared that this was the end of his life. Luckily, they found a hatch that led them to the top of the ship and escaped the rising water.
After two hours of fighting, combating flooding and putting out fires on the ship, the attack ended. After this event, Archie was promoted from assistant navigator to navigator. He went on to serve on the destroyer ship USS Gansevoort as a gunnery officer in six other combat actions during the remained of the war.
When Archie was not in combat situations, he worked in the Navy’s nuclear program. He was part of the development team who created the Navy’s first two nuclear submarines. During this time in his career, he mentored a young U.S. Navy officer, Jimmy Carter, who later became the president of the United States.
After 30 years in the military, Archie retired with the rank of Captain. He then moved out to sunny Arizona and met his current wife, Carol, in their favorite bookstore in Scottsdale. Twenty-five years later the Kelleys are still happy living at Sagewood. Archie’s daughter, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren visit him frequently at Sagewood and make it a priority to celebrate all occasions including his recent 104th birthday.