So this email came late last night and I am just now talking to my mother about it. She confirmed some stuff I thought I remembered. I feel I have to write this down for my cousins and my children.
Jim was my mother's favorite uncle. She remembers her grandfather, Mike (Big Mike whose bed frame is in the cottage and I always call dibs on that bed) and her Uncle Danny coming to this house I am sitting in now. They came to the back door which was in a different place back then. She said she can still picture Danny bending down to come in the door because he was so tall. He was the tallest of the seven brothers, who were all six foot or taller, and soon to leave and join the Marines.
It was a Sunday so my grandfather was home when they came down for the top of Bunker Hill to Elm Street. When they told Papa Kelley that Jim was dead, my mother, who was just a little shy of five years old, ran and hid. She ran to a closet in the living room that is now a bookcase to hide from this news and cry.
My great grandfather, Big Mike was very superstitious. He told his family that earlier that morning he got up to answer the doorbell. As he walked to the door he saw Jim's hat and knew he was dead because when he opened the door no one was there. I think the hat was on a bed because growing up I thought hats on a bed were bad luck. I must have been misinterpreting the story. It wasn't the hat on the bed, it was seeing the hat when no one was at the door.
Later people came to tell my grandfather that Jim went back inside and was briefly seen leading a woman toward an exit. They must have been overcome by the deadly fumes because Jim was not burned at all.
In a little under eight weeks on November 28th, we will observe the 70th anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove Fire. My grandfather, Papa Kelley lost his brother James. So, of course, I never met him. However, Papa Kelley's other brothers made sure I knew about him and his courage.
Bill Durette of the Charlestown Veterans' History Project just sent me a copy of an article referencing SSGT James Kelley of Charlestown.
John and Joe served in the Army as did George and Tim. John served in Europe, Joe spent most of the war state-side only getting to France just after the invasion. Tim was in Australia and George was doing intelligence work in China. Tom was in the Merchant Marine and somewhere along the line the Defense Department began to count their service too. So all together seven of the eight Kelley brothers served. My grandfather was turned down because of his age and young children. However, the two that were lost, Jim and Danny were in the Marines. Danny was killed at Iwo Jima.
Boston has what they call "Hero Squares" that are dedicated to those who gave their lives in the service of our nation. At the top of Bunker Hill, the square formed by Bunker Hill Street and Mead Street and North Mead Street is named for my Great Uncles Jim and Danny.