In 1950, General Kelley earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marines. The next year he married Barbara Adams, who lived with him at a care facility in Washington before his condition deteriorated. In addition to her, he is survived by a daughter, Christine Cimko; a sister, Joanne McCarthy; and a granddaughter.
At the best of times, the office of commandant is one of the proudest in the military.
Like his predecessors for nearly 200 years, General Kelley and his wife lived in elegance in a historic Washington residence with high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, a reputed ghost and a view of parade grounds clattering with ceremonial drills.
But General Kelley also served through some of the hardest of times for the Marines.
He completed two tours in Vietnam, as a battalion commander in the 1960s and later as a regimental commander, commanding and bringing home the last Marine combat unit to leave Vietnam, in 1971. His combat decorations included the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Legions of Merit. After returning to civilian life he saw to it that other veterans were honored, serving two stints as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Early in his career he had served on the Sixth Fleet’s flagship in the Mediterranean, and in 1960 and 1961 he trained as a commando with the British Royal Marines and deployed with them to Aden, followed by Singapore, Malaya and Borneo.
But nothing, it turned out, prepared him or the Marine Corps for what would happen in Beirut in 1983, four months after he was promoted to general and took over as commandant.
President Reagan had sent hundreds of Marines as peacekeepers to Lebanon — first to allow the departure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s militants, and ultimately in defense of a government beleaguered by civil war and threatened by powerful neighbors.