Gen. Paul X. Kelley, the 28th commandant of the Marine Corps, from 1983 to 1987, died on Dec. 29 at the age of 91. His was a life well-lived, for which he should be remembered.
Kelley was born in Boston in 1928 and graduated from
Villanova University. A patriot and a Marine, he was a combat veteran and
oversaw the Marine Corps during a critical period of tragedy and rebuilding.
Commissioned in 1950 after completing Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, Kelley had a distinguished and impactful career, serving the United States in the Marine Corps for 37 years.
The current Marine commandant, Gen. David H. Berger, in announcing Kelley’s passing, said, “Our 28th Commandant, General P.X. Kelley, passed away … . We should honor Gen. Kelley’s lifetime of service to the Corps and to the nation. From his service in Vietnam, to leading our Corps through the Beirut bombing aftermath, Gen. Kelley served with honor and distinction.”
Kelley began his career in the infantry. In Vietnam, he served as an intelligence officer before earning a promotion to commander of a battalion. During his tour as battalion commander in 1965, he earned the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and two Bronze Stars.
In 1970, he was reassigned to Vietnam in command of the 1st
Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, notably the last Marine ground
combat unit to leave Vietnam. He earned a second Legion of Merit during this
Under President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kelley also commanded the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, the organization that evolved into U.S. Central Command and served as a rapid-deployment force for the Middle East.
He was promoted to general and commandant in 1983 during
Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and oversaw the growth
and improvement of the Marine Corps following the drawdown after the
This growth and improvement allowed the Marines to play key roles in the decade following and beyond, including in the Persian Gulf War and in peacekeeping and disaster response missions around the world.
He also displayed strong leadership in the aftermath of
Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, which
occurred early in his tenure as commandant and took the lives of 241 U.S.
service members, 220 of them Marines. It was the worst single-day loss suffered
by the Marines since World War II.
Kelley flew quickly to the site to give comfort to his fellow
Marines and other survivors of the attack.
An outspoken advocate for a strong national defense throughout of his career, he “blasted members of Congress who believe defense can be had ‘on the cheap’” in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor as he neared retirement.
We should all honor Gen. Paul X. Kelley for his service,
and for his legacy of defending America and the principles he leaves behind.
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