A 13 year old soldier
Being wounded near the end of the war
Post WWII Military Service
Two Tours in Vietnam
Robert Kelso was born in Bristow, Oklahoma. He lived up on a farm owned by his grandparents. A few years after he was born, the family moved to Sapulpa. After his parents divorced, he spent some time with his grandparents but spent the majority of his time in foster homes. His formal education stopped in the seventh grade. He went into the army in August 1944 and turned 14 soon after. Kelso was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training, immediately after which he was sent to Europe as a replacement. He got to Europe in January or February of 1945 and was assigned to an armored field artillery battalion. At first he was part of a gun crew but was later assigned to carry ammunition for the guns. Kelso was born in September 1930. He registered for the draft and was drafted. Anyone who registered was assumed to be 18 years old. After being drafted he was sent to Fort Sam Houston and from there he was sent to Fort Sill for 16 weeks of basic training. After basic training he sailed out of New York and went to Germany. He was trained as a cannoneer. There were five positions on the gun that they performed. The smartest guy was the gunner and the dumbest guy humped the ammunition. Kelso carried a lot of ammunition.
Robert Kelso crossed into Germany through the Siegfried Line and headed toward Salzburg. His unit was in Salzburg when he rejoined it after having been wounded in April. He came back to the United States in July 1945 to prepare to go to the Pacific. They [Annotators Note: the army] found out how old he really was and discharged him. He got an Honorable Discharge. Kelso was in the 342nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion. They used 105 self propelled guns, the M7. When Kelso got to Europe it was very cold. They would dig foxholes and sleep in them. Every time they moved to a new location they dug a new foxhole. They sailed from New York to Liverpool, England then took a train from there to Southampton. From Southampton they went by ship to Le Havre then marched up a hill to a tent camp. From there they went by train to a replacement unit where they were parceled out to the units that needed replacements. By the time Kelso arrived in Europe the war was very fluid. The Allies were all advancing very quickly. The Germans were not as organized as they had previously been. Even so they did put up resistance. Kelso's first combat was a fire mission they received right after they crossed the Siegfried Line. Kelso stayed focused on his job.
Robert Kelso's unit had pulled up near a railroad track and dug in. He had heard that some of the guys went to a farmhouse up the road. Some guys got a haircut, others got eggs. Kelso decided to go up there and see about getting a haircut and some eggs. There were German soldiers retreating through the area when they went up. A firefight broke out. Kelso was with two other American soldiers. One of them was killed and both Kelso and the other soldier were wounded. Kelso was in the house with the German farmer. He shot a German soldier outside of a window then was wounded by another German soldier. There were other German soldiers in the house. When the firefight broke out men from Kelso's unit came up in half tracks and got him and the other wounded out. He was seen by the battalion surgeon who sent him back to a field hospital. This was in the middle of April [Annotators Note: April 1945] and the war was almost over. This took place near the town of Augsburg, Germany. Kelso had been bayoneted by one of the Germans in the house. He was in the house going room to room with the farmer. Behind one of the doors was a German soldier who lunged at Kelso and stabbed him in the leg with his bayonet. Kelso got outside and was picked up by one of the half tracks. After Kelso was evacuated in one of the half tracks the firefight continued. The enemy troops turned out to be Hungarian SS soldiers who were retreating through the area. After the enemy soldier bayoneted him he shot him. At the time Kelso was on edge. He did not know how many enemy soldiers were there. Everything happened very quickly. The first guy Kelso shot was outside and Kelso shot him through a window. The German farmer indicated that there were German soldiers in the house so they cleared the house and that is when Kelso was wounded. Kelso was carrying an M1 carbine. He carried the same weapon in Vietnam. At that time he was a captain. He tried the Thompson submachine gun but thought it was too heavy so he carried a carbine. Kelso's wound was not very wide but it was deep. He was in the medical system for about three weeks. In the field hospital Kelso was operated on right next to a wounded German soldier who had been hit by shrapnel. From the hospital he went to a convalescent hospital and from there to a replacement depot and finally rejoined his unit in Austria. The day the war ended Robert Kelso was in Augsburg on his way back to his unit [Annotators Note: Kelso was wounded when a Hungarian SS soldier stabbed him in the leg with his bayonet and was hospitalized for about three weeks.]. He was on a train to Houston the day the war with Japan was over. He missed all of the festivities. After the surrender, he was at Dachau in a camp outside of the concentration camp where a truck picked him and brought him back to his outfit. Kelso had been to the concentration camp at Dachau a few days after it had been liberated. Most of the prisoners were gone but he did see the crematorium. The guards who were left had been taken away. Some of the guards had been killed by the guys from the 45th Infantry Division who had liberated the camp. When Kelso got back to Salzburg he was assigned to pulling guard duty and was responsible for checking the identification of German soldiers coming back. Kelso's unit was sent back together to prepare to go to the Pacific.
Robert Kelso's unit was sent back all at one time [Annotator’s Note: Robert Kelso served on a gun crew with the 342nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion. The battalion was sent back to the United States as a unit to prepare for deployment to the Pacific Theater.] By the time they got back to the US the army knew Kelso's true age and he was discharged. The people aboard ship knew how old he was and they were very kind to him and let him eat with them. Kelso is not sure how the military authorities discovered his true age but thinks his mother had something to do with it. Kelso may have been the youngest soldier wounded during World War II. He was 14 when he was wounded. He believes that he could not do things as well as the older guys because he did not have much formal education. After being discharged, he tried to go back to high school but quickly learned that he was not cut out for a classroom environment. He got a job selling magazines door to door. They would go from city to city. At the time Kelso was still passing himself off as 18 or 19 years old. When he got to San Diego he quit his job and enlisted in the army. This was in February 1946. He used a mimeographed copy of his discharge papers and just removed the reason for being discharged which said he was a minor. The army did not care. Kelso was sent to an army base in Long Beach and from there went by train to Camp Pickett, Virginia where he boarded a troopship and went back to Europe. After a year he came back to the US and again tried to go to school but was too restless, so he went back into the military and went back to Europe. His infantry battalion was part of General Clay's honor guard. While in Berlin Kelso auditioned for a job with Armed Forces Radio as a DJ. He got the job but he had trouble getting released from his outfit. Before Kelso went back to Europe he was in the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington. He applied for Officer Candidate School and was sent to Fort Riley. They did a background check on Kelso and discovered that he did not have a high school education. He was eliminated from Officer Candidate School and sent to Europe. He ended up with Armed Forces Radio in Berlin working the night shift. At the time the Berlin Airlift was taking place. The aircraft coming in to Berlin would use the radio waves as a beacon. From Berlin, Kelso was sent to Munich where he did a noon show he called Luncheon with München. In Munich he met an American girl who encouraged him to go back to the US, get his GED, and go to college. Kelso went to college and joined the ROTC program. After graduating he got a commission in the Air Force. Kelso started pilot training. In primary he flew T-34s and T-28s then went to Laredo Air Force Base and flew T-33 jets. He fractured his neck playing flag football and was medically eliminated from flying. Kelso met the woman who would become his wife in Laredo. They stayed in Laredo for a while but the Laredo Air Force Base did not have an Air Force Reserve unit. There was an Army Reserve unit so he transferred his commission. In July 1963 Kelso was called to active duty and was sent to the armored school [Annotators Note: at Fort Knox, Kentucky] after which he was made an instructor even though he was supposed to go to a tank battalion there. In 1965 he got orders to go to Vietnam.
Robert Kelso went to Vietnam as an advisor but was called to Saigon to run the Armed Forces Radio when it was learned that he had a degree in radio and television. He ran the station until an Air Force officer was brought in who was senior to Kelso. Kelso was supposed to go to a tank battalion in Germany but was diverted to the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison as a teacher. Kelso had written the Armored Branch requesting assignment to a tank battalion. He was a major at the time but had minimal experience as an armored officer. He was sent to an armored cav regiment [Annotators Note: armored cavalry] at Fort Meade, Maryland and became the operations officer of the 2nd Squadron, 6th Armored Cav. They were the first federal troops into Washington after Dr. Martin Luther King had been killed. There was widespread rioting but they did not stop it until it was six blocks from the White House. Kelso became the executive officer of his squadron and was selected to attend the Command and General Staff College [Annotators Note: at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]. This was special since Kelso was a reserve officer. His regimental commander recommended him. Kelso was then sent to Vietnam again where he joined the 25th Infantry Division as the division Public Affairs Officer. When the division was sent home Kelso was sent to Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam. He had also been selected to be the editor of Armored Magazine and was sent to Washington. They put out a magazine every two months. When his tour as editor was up he was nearing his 20 years. He was sent to Fort Sam Houston to the Fifth Army as the Community Relations Officer. He wanted to go here because he and his wife planned to retire to San Antonio. In July of 1976 Kelso retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. In World War II he was a private. In Vietnam he was a captain and was advising a small unit that was guarding American surveyors from Hawaii who were looking for a location for an airfield. Kelso had an American corporal with him who had been a captain. The man had been RIFed [Annotators Note: separated or discharged by reason of Reduction in Force] and reenlisted as a corporal and he was a problem. Kelso felt very threatened out there. He wore a pin on his fatigue jacket that was stolen out his tent one night. On another night someone also stole a portable radio. In addition to this job, Kelso was advising a Vietnamese captain who was setting up a training center. One of the things Kelso is most proud of was convincing the Vietnamese to purchase some hogs to eat the garbage generated by the cadets. After that Kelso returned to the United States and went to Fort Sam Houston and retired. While he was with the ARVN [Annotators Note: Army of the Republic of Viet Nam] he took some incoming fire when he was down on the sand bar and when he was with the 25th Infantry Division they received some rocket fire in their camp. Kelso had a Conex container that was sandbagged right outside of his hooch. That is where they took cover from the rockets. Kelso was sent to North Vietnam during Operation Lam Son 719 when the ARVN went into Laos. Kelso was sent up to assist a senior officer in taking care of the press. Kelso never had any real close calls. He always felt that driving around in a jeep that he might hit a mine but that did not stop him from driving. He is sure no one ever pulled a trigger on him.
[Annotators Note: Robert Kelso was serving as an officer in the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment when it was sent to Washington DC during the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.] During the riots they were dealing with Americans. To clear the streets they used a gas which was non lethal but messed with them. Eventually the senior leaders of the communities got things restored. During his time in combat he was never in command. He was an advisor and as a public affairs officer. He was responsible for cranking out information for the soldiers of the division. They made a movie about the 25th Division. Kelso had a guy working for him named Steve Kroft, the reporter from 60 Minutes, who he sent to Japan where the archives were. Kroft made a movie that the division chief of staff was very pleased with. Kelso decorated Kroft for his accomplishment with the movie. Kelso discusses the decorations he has earned during his service in the military. One of those decorations was the Legion of Merit which he was awarded when he retired. Kelso had awarded Kroft the Bronze Star for meritorious service. Kelso has three Bronze Stars that were all for meritorious service. After Kelso retired he stayed on as a civilian employee with the army for several years before meeting his present wife and working with her. Kelso has had a good ride. Kelso supports The National WWII Museum. He feels that this Museum is unique. There is a need to keep people informed of what happened.
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