Member Stories: Tom and Joan Kelley on Military Service, Tom's Medal of Honor, and Their New Book
Speaking with co-authors Tom and Joan Kelley, both decorated Navy Commanders, you imagine that the husband and wife writing team must have been together for a lifetime to cultivate such a strong bond. Surprisingly, they found each other relatively late in life. Married in 2005, the couple volunteers their story as proof that true love sometimes takes its sweet time. We sat down with them to discuss their newly-published book, The Siren’s Call and Second Chances, which chronicles how their time in the Navy helped them grow as individuals and eventually brought them together as a couple.
Thomas G. Kelley received the Congressional Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty as a Navy Lieutenant Commander in the Vietnam War. He put his life on the line to save his men during a rescue mission on the banks of South Vietnam’s Ong Muong Canal in 1969, suffering a traumatic head injury that almost ended his military career. After serving in the Navy for 20 more years, Tom continued to improve the lives of military and veterans as Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services. He is the current President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Tom told us that he “likes the idea of team work and being part of an organization [The Navy] that has a clear mission. Being able to contribute to that mission for 30 years was very rewarding and fulfilling.”
Joan Kelley also has an impressive history of military service. She struggled through a challenging childhood to earn a Masters in Public Relations, as well as a law degree. She then fulfilled a lifelong dream of serving her country, joining the Navy Reserves as a Public Affairs Officer. Joan retired a Commander after 20 dedicated years of service.
“The service helped me develop discipline,” Joan revealed. “I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to serve my country and do things I never thought I would do. It’s given me a whole different perspective on the world. I feel blessed.”
An Unlikely Love Story
Tom and Joan decided shortly after their marriage that their unlikely love story could inspire others, so they decided to write a book centered around their lives in the military. The Siren’s Call and Second Chances retraces their parallel paths in life; their struggles and disappointments, and how they ultimately found the strength to overcome these challenges and find happiness.
“The story doesn’t fit the formula of the typical military memoir, but it has lessons that are equally important and need to be shared,” Joan says. “The second chances part of the title relates to Tom and I finding each other and having another chance at a loving marriage and a happy life. We both had experiences being rejected by the Navy, but ultimately it was our destiny to serve. We wanted to give people faith that while there will always be obstacles in life, if you stick with your goals and you look for the next opportunity you can get what you want.”
Another major theme in the book is Tom’s inspiring story of bravery during combat—how he found the courage to continue leading his men, even after shrapnel from a Viet Cong rocket shattered his skull and destroyed one of his eyes.
“I think everybody has it in them to step up and do the right thing when a crises situation happens, whether it’s in the military or people not wearing any kind of uniform," Tom humbly says of his service. “It takes a lot of courage and we all have it in us, it’s just reaching down and finding it. In the service we value integrity, honesty, and moral and physical courage, and those are attributes that I think we can all use to steer our lives by.”
Tom and his fellow Congressional Medal of Honor recipients will be the first to say that they do not think of themselves as “heroes.” Their medals represent the bravery they have shown as individuals but, more importantly, commemorate the sacrifices of countless unrecognized heroes that were injured or gave their lives for their country. The Siren’s Song and Second Chances pays tribute to these everyday heroes and offers a deeper emotional perspective not commonly found in military memoirs.
“The whole book is a love story,” Joan told us, in summary. “It’s about the love of our country, love of our fellow man, love of the military, and, of course, our love story. It's our deepest hope that this book will inspire people and lead them on a positive path in their life.”
The net sales of The Siren’s Song and Second Chances will be donated to veteran’s charities, so make sure to buy your copy on Amazon today by clicking this link. Please leave a positive book review on Amazon to show Tom and Joan that you support their efforts to improve the lives of veterans.
Veterans Advantage proudly gives free lifetime memberships to all Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, spouses and widows. To learn more about Tom G. Kelley and how he earned his Medal of Honor, check out his inspiring story in Our Member Stories.
Do you or your loved one serve your country, either through military service or community service with military, vets, and their families? We would love to hear your story and share it with our audience on our blog, The Service, or through our Community Awards.
Photo Credit: Tom and Joan Kelley via Larry Cahill Photography