James Kelly has seen a lot during his 95 years, including 38 days as a Marine on Iwo Jima during World War II.
After the war, he worked for the railroad and as a fire inspector in Urbana, Ill.
For all of Kelly’s service, Gary Fiochetta, past commander of the Ellenton Veterans of Foreign Wars, figured he was deserving of a surprise party on his birthday.
Fiochetta pulled together enough veterans and Kelly family and friends to fill AmVets Post 301, 2443 U.S. 301, Ellenton, on Thursday to do just that.
“It’s amazing. I was speechless. I was completely surprised,” Kelly said, as he accepted happy birthday wishes from those in the room and on his flip-top cell phone.
Amazing, maybe, but not as much as Kelly himself.
It’s amazing. I was speechless. I was completely surprised.
“He lives by himself, and still drives,” said Kelly’s son, Jim II.
“He’s like a magnet,” Jim II said, recalling that at the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., he saw his father chatting with Tom Brokaw and Bob Dole.
For the past 40 years, James Kelly has been splitting his time between Urbana and Tropic Isles Co-Op in Ellenton.
Thursday, some of his friends from both communities attended the birthday, as Kelly snacked on chicken wings, sipped a Pabst Blue Ribbon and occasionally removed a red Marine baseball cap to reveal a full head of hair.
Zoe Revell, one of his Urbana neighbors, called Kelly a “sweetheart with a heart of gold.”
Fiochetta, who collected a cake and other food, much of it donated by Publix, said he thought it would be nice to pull the party together to show appreciation to Kelly for his service.
“These guys, I love them all,” Fiochetta said.