The late Adm. Frank Benton Kelso, II, will be the focus of a Hometown Heroes’ tribute Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m., in the auditorium of the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum.
Adm. Kelso served as the U.S. Navy’s 24th Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and member the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He passed away June 23, 2013, after complications from a fall. He would have celebrated his 80th birthday just a few weeks later.
The keynote speaker will be Rear Adm. Andrew Mueller, deputy commander, Navy Recruiting Command stationed in Millington. Mueller graduated from the University of Rochester in New York, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1988. He received his commission through the Naval Reserve Officer Training program and was designated a naval aviator in March of 1991.
He is a distinguished graduate from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College Distant Education Program and is authorized to wear the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (Strike Flight), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, as well as various campaign and unit awards.
Other speakers will include Dr. Ann Hatcher, Dr. Farris Beasley, Dwight Lowdermilk, Dr. Bill Heath, and Adm. Kelso’s son, Dr. Tom Kelso, who will also be available to sign his new book, “Fractured” for an hour following the tribute – proceeds from his book sales will be donated to the museum, according to organizers.
A naval poem will also be read by graduating senior from Lincoln County High School, Michael “Toby” Mosquera. Victoria Matheny is scheduled to sing the National Anthem a cappella and the Hazel Green Color Guard will post the colors. The emcee for the event will be Marie Caldwell, past president of the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum and member of the Friends of Fayetteville-Lincoln County Veterans (Warrior Exhibit).
Family members of the admiral are also expected to attend. The public is invited to attend the event, which will be the first Hometown Heroes event to be held. Annual tributes are planned in the future.
Thomas Hastings, an Adm. Kelso Scholarship recipient and Lincoln County High School teacher, will speak as well. The Adm. Kelso Scholarship is a part of his legacy, and all the scholarship’s recipients have been invited to attend. Also Adm. Kelso’s shipmates of the six submarines, which he served, have been contacted, and many are expected to attend.
The event honoring Adm. Kelso was the idea of Dwight Lowdermilk, who moved here in 2011. Having served in the Navy, Lowdermilk was impressed with Adm. Kelso’s record and felt there was a need to recognize him. The event emerged with the Friends of Fayetteville-Lincoln County Veterans and the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum partnering.
July 11, which is the admiral’s birthday, has been designated as Adm. Kelso Day by the City of Fayetteville as well as by Lincoln County.
An exhibit with items donated by Adm. Kelso is located in the Museum. The late Bill Askew was also an advisor in preparations for the event, and his daughter Ann Hatcher has agreed to be a speaker due to his recent passing. Seating is limited, so please contact Lowdermilk at firstname.lastname@example.org or post on Facebook at Fayetteville-Lincoln County Tennessee Home Town Heroes.
Adm. Kelso’s career
Adm. Kelso was a native of Fayetteville, where he attended public schools. He studied one year at the University of the South at Sewanee before his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952. He was the son of the late Benton and Wista Kelso of Fayetteville.
The admiral’s career as a Navy officer spanned 38 years, from his time commanding nuclear submarines to his rise to Commander Sixth Fleet and NATO Commander Naval Striking Force and Support Forces Southern Europe. On June 30, 1986, Adm. Kelso was promoted to admiral and assumed the duties of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He became Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command on Nov. 22, 1988.
Adm. Kelso was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (three awards), Legion of Merit (four awards), Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals.
Retiring in 1994 with his full four-star rank, Adm. Kelso remained in Washington, D.C., until 2003 when he and his first wife, Landess, who died in 2012, returned to their native Fayetteville. They had been married 56 years at the time of her death.
The admiral was laid to rest on June 29, 2013, at Rose Hill Cemetery here in Fayetteville. More than 300 friends, family and colleagues had gathered that morning at the First United Methodist Church in Fayetteville to pay their final respects.
Remembered for his strength of character, integrity, and devotion to family, church, community and nation, Adm. Kelso’s life was tearfully celebrated during the funeral, which carried full military honors. Among those speaking were Chaplain Bill Perry, a long-time friend of Kelso and former naval officer of 27 years, the Rev. Tommy Ward, a friend of Kelso and then senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, and the admiral’s eldest son, Tom Kelso.
Also present were numerous national dignitaries, including the nation’s then current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who at the cemetery presented a national ensign to Adm. Kelso’s widow, the former Georgeanna Robinson of Fayetteville, whom he had recently married. Mrs. Kelso then presented the flag to the admiral’s children.