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Oral History - Alonzo Hyatt Kelly (1889-1977) - A Henrico Veteran of the Great War
by Beverly A. Williams

Alonzo Hyatt Kelly in his WWI army uniform.

I remember these stories as they were often told around my grandmother's dining room table during the many visits we paid them during my childhood. The stories are still told now by his youngest daughter, my mother, Ann Kelly Moore.

Lon, as his friends called him, was a young man when he was shipped off to fight in Europe during World War I in 1917. He left behind his young bride, who was expecting their first child. In the time he was there, he surely must have witnessed the many horrors of war, but we, his family never heard about those times. This kind man of Irish immigrant decent had a ready smile, an easy laugh, and endless humorous stories about his times growing up, and yes, even his times fighting the first major world war.

One of his stories that is best remembered recalled a time he was with his fellow troops being transported across France on railroad flatbed cars. The soldiers were out in the open, unprotected from the elements and enemy bullets. It wasn't long before German aircraft approached and began to strafe the railroad cars with their guns. Undoubtedly many men, with no cover to speak of, were shot on that fateful train ride. Lon thought that this too had been his fate when he felt a wetness begin to trickle down his body. Surely he had been shot. However, when he looked up, he discovered that a tank of water he had been sitting against had taken a hit and was slowly trickling harmless water over him. The relief he must have felt at cheating death yet another time during this terrible war may have been why he could relay this tale to his children and grandchildren with a smile on his face.

There was another time when his troops thought the Germans were getting too close. They didn't want the Germans to get their supply of coffee. So they dumped all they had into a big barrel and made a huge batch of very strong coffee. The troops then drank as much of it as they could stand. Dandy always said of that coffee and any strong coffee since that "it'd make you fight your granny." This he always said with a wide grin and a soft laugh.

Another time he recalled was when he and his fellow troops were resting - likely awaiting the next battle. As he dozed, the drizzling rain on his metal helmet made a ringing sound he dreamt was the bells of his church in Lee County calling its parishioners to pray. I wonder if that was a comfort to him as he slept, or if it saddened him to face the reality of war once again upon waking. Maybe it was both.

I remember finding Dandy's helmet once up in my grandmother's attic. It was large and very heavy. In the crown it bore a large dent, perhaps caused by flying shrapnel. I often wonder if that dent was evidence of my grandfather's life being spared when others weren't so lucky. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Dandy as he fought through Europe during that war. He never told us the sad or scary stories that I'm sure he must have experienced. He only told us the ones that made him laugh.

Post Script:

Alonzo Kelly and his wife Amanda Torbert Kelly settled in Richlands, Virginia after the war and raised a family of five children. Their daughter, Ann Kelly Moore is a long time resident of Henrico County. Granddaughter, Beverly A. William, also is a resident of Henrico County and is a speech pathologist for the County of Henrico school system.

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