By Ken Denbow
A dog brought San Carlos neighbors Lee “Stump” Kelley and Larry Lindsey together, and started a deep friendship which would result in Larry writing and publishing the book, “Stump! The Naked Warrior.”
Lindsey was walking his dog while Kelley was sitting in his front yard.
“Is that a Corgi?” Kelley called out.
“Sure is,” Lindsey responded, leaving the sidewalk and walking over to where Lee was sitting.
Despite a 20-year age difference, they developed a friendship that would last 10 years until Kelley’s death in 2013. The men met every day to chat, discovering how similar their lives had been, and Monday night became a standing dinner date for the two, joined by Lindsey’s wife, Sue.
Both men were Navy veterans, Lee from World War II, and Lindsey from the Vietnam era. Both served in special parts of the service — Kelley as a frogman, a forerunner of today’s Navy SEALS, while Lindsey was a “river rat” in Vietnam, patrolling the rivers to disrupt Viet Cong supply routes. Both served on the same ship, the USS Hampshire County — Kelley in World War II and Lindsey on the Mekong river in Vietnam.
Kelley was born in Elyria, Ohio. His parents were vaudeville performers who had an act too corny to be successful but good enough to keep them employed. They were not ideal parents. From childhood, Kelley was short, standing 5 feet 5 inches when fully grown (hence the nickname, “Stump”). To make up for his lack of size, he played games, particularly ice hockey, with a ferocious competitiveness that would be his trademark throughout life. He was a fierce competitor on his school swim team.
In 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Stump decided to become a United States Marine. On the way to enlist, he changed his choice of service because of a “sweet-talking” Navy recruiter. In boot camp, he was selected to begin training for the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT), popularly known as the frogmen. Both sides in World War II knew the Allies would have to storm the beaches of Europe and the Pacific Islands. This led to the development of landing craft by the Allies and the development of obstacles to these craft approaching the beaches on the part of the Axis.
The UDT were trained to clear these obstacles prior to landings. Scuba gear had not yet been developed, so the underwater work was done with primitive breathing support equipment. A typical mission would drop the frogmen off after dark near the beach. They would swim ashore, attach explosives to the underwater obstacles through repeated dives, survey the water depth, and then be recovered by the vessel that dropped them. In some cases, however, the frogmen were there to greet the assault forces as they came ashore.
Kelley was 17 at the time of his enlistment. Like many of his compatriots, after seeing action throughout the Pacific theater, he was not old enough at the end of the war to legally order a beer or to vote for the president who sent him into harm’s way.
“I think 17-year-olds were more mature in those days,” Lindsey said. “Maybe as the result of growing up in the Depression.”
After the war, Kelley used the GI Bill to attended Akron University in Ohio, majoring in business. He subsequently worked for General Dynamics for the remainder of his career.
Kelley was married, and divorced, three times. He had a son and a daughter but was estranged from them for much of his life.
Lindsey graduated from Princeton with a degree in Psychology. He taught high school history for 11 months and then enlisted in the Navy. He served for 22 years, retiring at the rank of lieutenant commander, serving on ships as small as a World War II Landing Ship (LST) and as large as the aircraft carrier USS America.
Lindsey’s first published writing effort was a book of poems taken from bathroom walls.
“It was pretty bawdy,” he admitted. “Didn’t sell too well.”
The idea for his current book came partly from research he had done on his father’s and his father-in-law’s heroic roles in World War II and partially from Kelley’s stories. The idea was to build a single book around the three lives.
Koehler Books, the publisher of “Stump!,” recommended that he pull Kelley’s story out as a separate book. Lindsey followed the advice and the book was published in April. It has been favorably reviewed, but has not been on the market long enough to become a bestseller. The book is a work of fiction, but is based on history and the personal recollections of Kelley.
Kelley’s last battle was against pancreatic cancer. He went very quickly. Lindsey cared for him for the last two months, with the aid of hospice and Lee’s two estranged children. The three divided the day into eight-hour shifts and shared the care of a man they all had learned to love. “Stump” died as he lived — with courage. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, overlooking the beaches where he trained as a frogman more than 70 years ago.
—Ken Denbow is a freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.