Charles Kelly was born on April 10, 1925, in Wadley, Georgia. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 25, 1941, serving with the 30th Infantry Division during the last year of the war in Europe, and was discharged on August 3, 1945. After completing college, Kelly was commissioned a 2d Lt in the Army Medical Corps on October 19, 1951, and went on active duty beginning November 10, 1951. He attended the Medical Field Service School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, from November 1951 to January 1952, and then served as a Medical Assistant at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from January 1952 to February 1954. Lt Kelly next completed Army Aviation School and the Army Cargo Helicopter Pilot Course and received his Army Aviator Wings at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on October 2, 1954. His next assignment was with the 47th Medical Detachment-Helicopter Ambulance (HA) at Fort Sam Houston and then in Europe from October 1954 to April 1956, followed by service with the 53rd Medical Detachment (HA) in Europe from April 1956 to November 1957. Capt Kelly attended the Army Medical Service Officer Advanced Course at Fort Sam Houston from November 1957 to June 1958, and then served with the 56th Medical Detachment (HA) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from June 1958 to March 1959. He next completed the Fixed Wing Qualification Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in July 1960, followed by service as commander of the 50th Medical Detachment (HA) in South Korea from September 1960 to September 1961. Capt Kelly served as operations officer for the Army Medical Aviation Branch at Headquarters Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston from January to August 1962, and he then completed the Instructor Flight training Course at Fort Sill in October 1962. His next assignment was as commander of the 54th Medical Detachment (HA) at Fort Benning, Georgia, from October 1962 to December 1963, followed by service as commander of the 57th Medical Detachment (HA), the original Dust Off unit, in Vietnam from January 1964 until he was killed in action on July 1, 1964.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
Major Charles L. Kelly distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, and while serving as an Aircraft Commander, on 1 July 1964. Major Kelly demonstrated exceptional courage, strong determination, and complete disregard for his own personal safety while participating in an aerial medical mission to evacuate wounded soldiers from an area under heavy attack by hostile forces. With unique professional skill and full knowledge of the intense ground fire and the immediate proximity of the enemy, he landed the unarmed helicopter ambulance close to the wounded men in the exposed area. Although the ground advisor warned him of the grave danger and recommended departure, Major Kelly refused to leave without the wounded soldiers and succeeded in loading them aboard the helicopter moments before he was mortally wounded by hostile gun fire. Major Kelly's extraordinary heroic actions, valiant efforts, and deep concern for his fellow man are in the highest traditions of the United States Army and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army Medical Service, and the armed forces of his country.