Growing up in Charlestown, Eugene ‘Gene’ Doe would jump off the old arm platform that swung off equipment in the Oilies park on Medford Street , a perfect precursor to his storied service as a paratrooper – where he made more than 500 jumps and carried out dangerous missions in Korea and Vietnam.
And when Joe Kelly’s kids would ask the rare question about his time as a prisoner of war during WWII, his only answer would be, “The food was horrible.”
These two humble, yet heroic, men were honored in two large Hero Square memorial ceremonies only 200 yards apart off Bunker Hill Street with scores of family members present to mark the occasion.
“I began doing research some time ago on all of the military men from Charlestown, and I quickly realized we could have a Hero Square on every corner,” said Bill Durette, who has done volumes of research on Charlestown historical military service. “This is a neighborhood of heroes. It truly is.”
Sgt. Eugene ‘Gene’ Doe
Growing up in the home at 332 Bunker Hill St., the Doe family recalled their grandmother sipping tea on the front step of the home, and one can only think that she spent many a morning thinking and praying for her son Gene, who fought in two wars.
Gene’s brother, Bob Doe, said his brother was very brave, and it was not surprise that he left home for the military to be a paratrooper.
“I’m not surprised he was a paratrooper,” said Bob. “We used to have this place called the Oilies (on Medford Street) and it had an arm that went off of it over the water. He would dive off of it. My father would say it was a stupid thing to do, but he was brave. He was a good soldier and an amazing guy. He was gone from the family though when he was only 17.”
Doe served in both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, completing 468 parachute jumps during his career. He served three tours in Vietnam and was wounded 10 times.
His daughter, Billie Joe Watson, said her father never talked about his service and all he did. It wasn’t until the Veterans Administration and Durette began talking to him that they learned of his incredible service – and even learned of some service that wasn’t public information.
“He was silent about what he did until his later years,” she said. “He would have never allowed this to happen if he was alive, but I think it is terrific.”
Gene Doe passed away in August 2016.
John ‘Jack’ Kelly Sr.
On North Mead Street, one has a great view of St. Francis de Sales Church, and they also have the Kelly family.
It was there that the large family steeped in Charlestown relations gathered to honor the late John ‘Jack’ Kelly Sr. – a young man who left Charlestown to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was taken prisoner and kept for six months by the Germans until liberated.
John Kelly Jr. indicated that his family had no idea what their father had done in the war and what he endured. He never spoke about it to them until later years when Durette was able to draw it out of him.
The story of his bravery, though, was nothing short of amazing, and as new to many in the family as it was to the audience gathered on the street.
“We had no idea my father was a POW for six months and we never knew he had a brother, Edward, who was lost at sea during the war,” said John Jr. “We had no idea and he just didn’t ever talk about it…Later he did talk about it and he told us about being liberated from the POW prison. He said one night the Soviet Red Army appeared at the gate and the German captain opened it. No one knew what was happening, but then the Soviet captain suddenly cut the German captain’s head off right there in front of everyone. My dad said that’s when they figured they should leave. According to him, the Soviets offered him a ride, but that 18-year-old kid from Charlestown wasn’t going to accept a ride from the Russians. He told them he would walk, and walk he did.”
Kelly’s story detailed that he walked behind the lines and stayed at different homes until he got to the American lines – where he was welcomed.
“This guy wouldn’t be here if he knew this was going on,” said John Jr. “He would have been down at Old Sully’s and when he saw that Old Sully’s was now condos – well, that would have been a very bad day.”