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Courtesy of Matagorda County Museum

Radioman Third Class James Wesley McKelvy
U. S. Naval Reserve
Ser. # 8413533

August 14, 1924 - May 4, 1945

Gold Star Mother Letha Delk McKelvy



United States Naval Reserve

Tablets of the Missing at Honolulu Memorial
Honolulu, Hawaii


By Ken Thames
VFW Post 2438 Historian

James W. “Buck” McKelvy was born August 14, 1924 in Bay City.  His father, William McKinley McKelvy was born in Gatesville, Coryell County, Texas, was a World War I veteran and was farming rice in Matagorda County when he was born; his mother was Letha Delk McKelvy who was born and raised at Greenville, Hunt County, Texas and was involved with the Rebekah Lodge and the Order of the Eastern Star.

Buck attended Bay City schools and was involved with Future Farmers of America throughout his high school years.  He entered the service before his graduation in 1943, and received his diploma in absentia when the Senior Class graduated in May.

With the war in its third year, Buck joined the Navy in February 1943, and received all of his training on the west coast.  He initially deployed overseas in February 1944, and returned home on leave in January 1945.  At that time he had participated in six engagements.

Assigned to the USS Morrison (DD-560), Buck saw combat in the central Pacific campaigns, the Philippine Campaign and the Battle of Okinawa.  His military awards included the Purple Heart, the American Theater Medal, the Pacific Theater Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal with one bronze star.  He was most likely a “plank owner”, or original crewmember, of the Morrison.

Buck’s military career is reflected in the history of the Morrison.  Her keel was laid by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp. of Seattle, WA on June 30, 1942; she was launched on July 4, 1943.  After a shakedown cruise off San Diego, CA, she departed Seattle February 25, 1944 for the South Pacific, via Pearl Harbor and the Marshall Islands.  In mid-April the destroyer joined Task Group 50.17 for screening operations off Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralties Islands, during the fueling of carriers then striking Japanese installations in the Carolines.

Morrison returned to Pearl Harbor on May 9th to train for the giant amphibious leap into the Marianas. Departing Pearl on 31 May via Roi, Marshall Islands, she arrived east of Saipan on June 13th for a busy month.  Her accurate gunfire supported the initial landings on Saipan on the 15th and provided close fire support thereafter.  With little aid, the crew fought off night air attacks from 17 through 19 June.  Of 40 enemy planes that approached at dusk the 17th, only 15 got by the attacks of the Navy’s carrier interceptor planes;  and Morrison shot down three of those.

On August 2nd the ship rendezvoused off Guam with Task Group 58.4 for flight operations following the landings on Guam on the 21st of July.  Eight days later Morrison departed Guam for Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, where she remained from the 13th until she got under way on the 29th of August for the Philippines, arriving off Mindanao on the morning of September 9th.  That same day, the beginning of a 2-day strike on Mindanao, a Japanese convoy of 50 sampans and freighters was sighted heading north.  Morrison led the intercepting force which destroyed the 10 to 15 sampans that survived the strafing by planes.  She pushed on for airstrike operations on Peleliu, Palau; the Carolines; and Luzon, Manila, and Samar Island, Philippines, through September.

On October 2nd Morrison sailed with Task Group 38.3 for picket duty off Okinawa, during the airstrikes there and on other islands in the Ryukyus on October 10th.  She continued on screen and plane guard operations off Formosa and northern Luzon during a 5-day attack beginning on the 12th of October.  On October 16th she screened USS Houston (CL-81) and USS Canberra (CA-70) as they retired to Ulithi.

During the Battle for Leyte Gulf, from 23 to 26 October, Morrison operated off Luzon.  On the 24th, she came to the aid of the USS Princeton (CVL-23), which was badly damaged by a Japanese bomb, and picked up approximately 400 survivors in an hour and a half.  The destroyer then pulled along side the Princeton to assist in fighting fire; she had just reached her position when the small aircraft carrier , drifting and rolling, wedged Morrison’s mast and forward stack between her uptakes.  Morrison managed to get clear and USS Birmingham (CL-62) took her place.  Ten minutes later the back third of Princeton blew off.  Not only did Birmingham suffer topside damage and heavy casualties, but Princeton was then so badly damaged she had to be sunk by torpedoes.

Morrison debarked the Princeton survivors at Ulithi on October 27th, and got underway for the West Coast, via Pearl Harbor, in company with USS Irwin (DD-794) and Birmingham, arriving at San Francisco on November 17th.  While his ship was in for repairs, Buck was able to take leave and return to Bay City to see his family.  On February 9th, 1945, the destroyer steamed back to the South Pacific, stopping at Pearl on the 15th.

After shore bombardment exercises in the Hawaiian Islands, Morrison departed for Ulithi on March 3rd.  By the 21st she had joined Task Force 54 underway to support the invasion of Okinawa.  The destroyer arrived off the southern shores of Okinawa on the 25th, just seven days before the landings on April 1st, and joined in the preparations of bombardment.

In the early morning of March 31st she sunk Japanese submarine I-8.  After USS Stockton ((DD-646) made a positive sound contact off Okinawa and expended her depth charges in the attack, Morrison arrived on the scene to see the submarine surface, then immediately submerge.  She dropped a pattern of charges which seconds later forced the submarine to surface, where it was then sunk by gunfire.  At daylight Morrison’s small boats rescued the lone survivor.

The ship continued shore bombardment, night illumination, and screen operations off Oshima Beach.  On the night of April 11th Morrison assisted USS Anthony (DD-515) in illuminating and sinking enemy landing craft heading north along the beach.

Three days later Morrison began radar picket duty.  Her first two stations, southwest of Okinawa, were occasionally raided at night.  She replaced USS Daly (DD-519) at the third station on April 28th after the other destroyer was hit by a kamikaze.

On April 30th Morrison was shifted to the most critical station on the picket line.  After three days of bad weather had prevented air raids, the dawn of May 4th was bright, clear, and ominous.  At 07:17[am] the combat air patrol was called on to stop a force of about 25 planes headed toward Morrison, but some got through.

The first attack on Morrison, a main target as the fighter-director ship, was a suicide run by a “Zeke” also known as a “Zero”.  The plane broke through heavy flak to drop a bomb which splashed into the water off the right side of the ship and exploded harmlessly.  Next a “Val” and another “Zeke” followed with unsuccessful runs.  About 08:25[am] a “Zeke” approached through intense antiaircraft fire to crash into a stack and the bridge.  The blow inflicted heavy casualties and knocked out most of the electrical equipment.  The next three planes, all old twin-float biplanes, maneuvered, despite heavy attack, to crash into the ship.  With the fourth hit, Morrison, heavily damaged, began to list sharply to the starboard (right).

Few communications circuits remained intact enough to transmit the order to abandon ship.  Two explosions occurred almost simultaneously, the bow lifted into the air, and by 08:40[am] Morrison had plunged beneath the waves.  The ship sank so quickly that most of the men below decks were lost; a total of 152 perished during the air raid and sinking; 172 crew members were rescued by a landing craft about 2 hours after the ship had gone down.  Buck, being a radioman, most likely was killed when the first “Zeke” struck the bridge of the ship.

In July 1957, the sunken hull of the Morrison was donated, along with those of some 26 other ships sunk in the Ryukyus area to the Government of the Ryukyu Islands for salvage.  Morrison received eight battle stars for her World War II service.

Buck’s name is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, HI; in 2004 Philip H. Parker VFW Post 2438 placed a memorial marker in his memory at the foot of his parent’s graves at Cedarvale Cemetery, Bay City.


James W. (Buck) McKelvy, 21, son of Mr. and Mrs. William McKelvy of Bay City, died while serving with the U. S. Navy as radioman third class. He was a native of Bay City and member of Bay City high school class of 1943, enlisting before his graduation and receiving his diploma in absentia.                                                         

Matagorda County Tribune
, June 14, 1945


Pictures from the
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
courtesy of Daniel Davila
Acres of Honor


Mr. and Mrs. William McKelvy received the following telegram this morning from the War Department advising them of the death of their son;

“The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son James Wesley McKelvy Radioman 3/c USNR was killed in action while in the service of his country. The department extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great loss. No information available at present in regard to disposition of remains, but by reason of existing conditions, burial at sea or in locality of death highly probable. If further details are received you will be informed. To prevent possible aid to our enemies please do not divulge name of his ship or station.

            Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of Naval Personnel”

James Wesley McKelvy (Buck) the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Bill McKelvy was born in Bay City on August 14th, 1924 and spent all of his life here up to the time of his enlistment in the Navy on March 1st, 1943. He entered the service before his formal graduation in 1943 and received his diploma in absentia in May of that year. He received all of his training on the west coast and was sent overseas on his initial trip in February 1944. He was returned to the United States and came to Bay City on leave, leaving the United States again in January 1945. At the time of his leave he had participated in six engagements.

He is survived by his parents Mrs. and Mrs. Bill McKelvy and one brother, Jack, his grandmother and grandfather, Mr. and Mrs. James B. Delk, his grandmother, Mrs. J. W. McKelvy and numerous aunts and uncles.

His brother, Jack has enlisted in the Navy and expects to receive his call to duty sometime after June 1st.                         

Matagorda County Tribune, May 31, 1945


Graveside service for Letha McKelvy, 88, of Port Lavaca, formerly of Bay City, will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Cedarvale Cemetery, Bay City, with the Rev. Chester Sassman of Calvary Baptist Church officiating.

Mrs. McKelvy was born July 25, 1897, in Greenville, Texas, and died June 10, 1986 at Memorial Medical Center, Port Lavaca.

She was a member of Calvary Baptist Church, Rebekah Lodge, Order of Eastern Star and Gold Star Mothers.

Survivors include a son, Jack "Tooter" McKelvy of Port Lavaca; a sister, Lena Johnson of Englewood, Colo.; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband, William McKinley McKelvy, in 1953.

Services are under the direction of Dick R. Elkins, Bay City Funeral Home.

The Daily Tribune, June 11/12, 1986

Funeral Services Held For

W. M. Mc Kelvy


Funeral services were held this afternoon for William M. Mc Kelvy, 56, who died Saturday at his home here after a long illness.


Taylor Bros. Funeral Home was the scene of the services that were conducted by the Rev. Bill Hughes, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church.  Burial was in Cedarvale Cemetery.


He was a veteran of the first World War.


Besides his wife, Mrs. Letha Mc Kelvy, he is survived by his son, Jack B. of Port Lavaca; sisters, Mrs. Lola McDougal of Bay City; Mrs. Clyde Estlinbaum of Wadsworth; and Mrs. David Owens of Houston; brothers Wesley, Mart, John and Wilburn of Bay City; Beal of Beaumont, Jim and Edward of Tyler.


The Daily Tribune, Monday, June 1, 1953



Copyright 2006 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Pictures © Daniel Davila

Jan. 30, 2006
Feb. 23, 2011