Adm. Frank Benton Kelso II (U.S. Navy, Retired), 79, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from July 1990 to May 1994, died Sunday, June 23, in Norfolk, Va., following a fall there that resulted in a severe head injury.
Kelso was in Norfolk to attend his grandson’s high school graduation. Like his grandfather, who had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1956, the grandson had gained an appointment to the Naval Academy.
“Frank was so proud his grandson had received that appointment,” said Bill Askew of Fayetteville, a lifelong friend of Kelso. “Of course, he was proud of all of his family – he loved them so much, as he did his church and his community.
“Frank was a wonderful person, and I’m thankful to have so many good memories of him,” Askew continued. “I think of him as my friend, but putting that aside, I think about his commitment to his country. That is why is so well respected by his peers and the people who served under him. He had a feel for what it takes to make this country great. It’s not the presidents or other high-ranking officials – it’s John Q. Public.
“If I were to think of one word to describe Frank, it would be service – he served people up and down the ladder and would help anyone he could,” he added. “He meant so much to so many people here, and he will be missed incredibly.”
Another lifelong friend of Kelso’s echoed Askins’ remarks.
“Adm. Frank B. Kelso was a great man,” said Bud Rambo of Fayetteville, who grew up with Kelso here in Fayetteville. “He reached the top of his profession as Chief of Naval Operations and one of the Joint Chiefs of Military Operations. He received many honors from all over the world, yet he chose to come back to his hometown and spend the last 10 years of his life here.
“Frank loved his family, his church and his friends,” Rambo added. “It has been an honor to have been his friend for over 75 years. He will be greatly missed.”
Adm. Kelso’s career spanned the majority of the Cold War period. His tour as CNO covered the end of the Cold War and witnessed the largest reduction in the Navy since the end of World War II. The Navy staff was reorganized and reduced in size, combat positions were opened to women and the Navy embraced closer joint operations with the other services. The shore establishment was significantly reduced and bases closed to match the needs of a smaller Navy. He served as acting Secretary of the Navy for seven and one half months at the beginning of the Clinton Administration. His tour encompassed the highly successful U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
The admiral served in various command positions including NATO’s Supreme Commander Atlantic, the unified U.S. Atlantic Command, and Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Commander Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, Submarine Squadron Seven and command of the submarines Finback and Bluefish. As COMSIXTHFLT, Adm. Kelso directed operations against Libya in 1985 and 1986 that resulted in significant reductions in Libyan terrorists activities.
His decorations include the Defense, Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medals, the Legion of Merit and numerous foreign awards.
Adm. Kelso was a native of Fayetteville, where he attended public schools. He studied one year at the University of the South before his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. provided his appointment in 1952. He was the son of the late Benton and Wista Kelso of Fayetteville. After retirement, he lived in the Washington, D.C., area until his return home to Fayetteville in 2003. He was a member of the Fayetteville First United Methodist Church.
Adm. Kelso was married to Landess McCown Kelso for 56 years prior to her passing in July 2012. They had four children: Tom, who is an orthopedic surgeon in Southport, N.C.; Don, a career naval officer who retired as a captain and served in submarines, currently living in Chesapeake, Va.; Mary, who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is married to Bill Kearns, a retired Navy captain; and Kerry, who lives in Richmond, Va., and is married to Brian Thomas. Adm. Kelso recently was remarried to Georgeanna Robinson of Fayetteville.
Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, June 29, at 10 a.m. at the Fayetteville First United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery beside his wife, Landess. Visitation with the family will be Friday evening 5-7 p.m. at Higgins Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Fayetteville First United Methodist Church Building Fund, the Adm. Frank B. Kelso II Scholarship Fund, c/o W.C. Askew, 114 Brookemeade Circle, Fayetteville, TN 37334 or the Rose Hill Cemetery Perpetual Trust Fund, P. O. Box 270, Fayetteville, TN 37334.