The Warbirds of Glory Museum in Brighton, Mich., is looking for friends and relatives of Staff Sgt. Melvin Ernest Kelley, a World War II B-25 tail gunner who passed away in late 1998.
Kelley was born in Farmington, married in South Pekin, and died at the Sharon Elms Health Care Center in Peoria. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but his funeral services were held at Woolsey Funeral Homes, Pekin Chapel. During World War II, he flew with the 488th Bomb Squadron out of Corsica in a B-25 that carried the tail code 8Z, meaning it was the 26th aircraft in its squadron.
“Our museum is restoring a B-25 to flying condition to memorialize the crew of 8Z,” said Warbirds of Glory Museum historian Ron Asman. “We are looking for friends and relatives of Kelley in the hope they have photos, letters, and other items that relate to his military service.”
Aircraft 8Z was shot down over Bologna, Italy, on Mar. 20, 1945. All six crew members were captured and interrogated by the Gestapo. During the interrogation, Kelley was beaten severely enough that he required hospitalization and medical treatment for the next three months. Three of his fellow crew members were labeled “gangsters” and executed for “crimes against the Third Reich,” according to Asman. Kelley returned to central Illinois when the war ended and testified against his interrogators in October 1945 during their war crimes trial.
“He was a member of Disabled American Veterans,” Asman said. “That leads to the question of whether (or not) he was disabled because of the beatings he received from the Gestapo.”
All six of 8Z’s crew members have passed away, and the museum has located their grave sites and placed wreaths on each memorial. The Warbirds of Glory have also found and contacted families and friends of the other five crew members.
“We’ve learned so much about these guys from their families,” Asman stated. “The family of George Hammond, the bombardier, gave us all his records for safekeeping. We have his Purple Heart and Air Medal.”
Kelley’s family and friends can contact Asman at email@example.com or call 937-459-0777.
To learn more about the restoration project, visit www.facebook.com/Sandbarmitchell.