Big Bill Kellum
Army A Football Yearling, Cow & Firstie Year
Korean War —
Big Bill Kellum led a platoon in the 21st Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division, earning the Silver Star. After his capture, Kellum organized resistance to Chinese indoctrination at Camp Five – Ponktong near the Chinese/North Korean border. His punishment was confinement to a special section of the camp hospital (no prisoner left alive), where he died in June 1951.
Grads would walk next to the wire whistling “On Brave Old Army Team” to encourage Bill.
William Harold Kellum
NO. 17975 20 October 1926 15 June 1951
Died 15 June 1951 (Presumed date) at Pyoktong, North Korea. Aged 23 Years.
COURAGE AND DETERMINATION. These were the words by which 1st Lieutenant William H. Kellum lived, fought, and died. Bill Kellum’s dedication to these words constitutes a capsule explanation of his outstanding athletic achievements, his extraordinary gallantry on the field of battle, and his uncompromising attitude toward his Chinese captors which was directly responsible for his untimely, tragic, but highly courageous and exemplary death.
It is clear that Colonel Earl ‘Red’ Blaik, under whose tutelage Bill achieved AII- East honors at the position of end in addition to three football letters, two of them with Navv stars, was impressed by these characteristics of courage and determination, as he recently recalled that:
“Bill Kellum … in his quiet, rather self-effacing, but uncompromising way … had a depth of determination which would not allow him to play a secondary position even though to do otherwise he was forced to overcome a limited … (physique by college standards). Bill’s competitive urge had a ferocity of purpose which earned him the lasting respect of the troops both on the field and on the field of battle.”
Again, courage and determination are amply evident in Lieutenant Kellum’s combat record as illustrated by the following excerpts from his Silver Star citation:
“…He was assigned the mission of maintaining a combat outpost approximately 3,000 yards in front of the main line of resistance…. At the break of day, he could observe the enemy almost completely around his position. Realizing the threat to his security, he immediately began placing his men to meet the new threat… He ran from position to position, continually exposing himself to enemy fire, in order to encourage his men and direct the fire fight. When last seen, he was running toward the right flank of his platoon to direct that group of men who were then heavily engaged with the enemy …. “
But there was more to Bill Kellum than athletic and military achievements. More even than courage and determination. He was a man of many capabilities and interests, a man who is remembered for his ready grin as well as his courage, a man considerate of and deeply attached to his family, and a man of strong beliefs in God and dedication to country and career. An account which does justice to Bill’s achievements and character cannot be told hit and miss: it must have a chronological foundation.
So let us backtrack to Eastland, Texas, on 20 October 1926, Bill’s date of birth. He was a strong, healthy baby which gave him a good start towards being the outdoor, athletic type he turned out to be. Bill received his elementary education in Sulphur Springs, Texas, and El Dorado, Arkansas. His high school education was at Haynesville, Louisiana, where in recognition of good grades and citizenship he was elected a member of the National Honor Society.
In forecast of football exploits at West Point, Bill was a much respected terror on high school football fields. He made All-State two years and All-Southern one year playing the position of end. Let us look briefly at excerpts from newspaper accounts of games in which he played, for courage and determination were as evident then as thev were to be years later playing for higher stakes in Korea:
“…Kellum is a scrapper from whistle to gun…his fine competitive spirit is an inspiration to his teammates… in spite of the fact that opposing coaches have had their linemen double up on the lanky wingman. He has been a standout in every game with his jarring tackles, precision blocking, and fancy pass catching ……
Of course, football was not Bill’s onIy avocation. He was greatly interested in scouting, an interest which may have been given impetus by the action of a Boy Scout who saved him from death from gasoline fumes at the age of four by administering artificial respiration. Bill was also an active member of the First Baptist Church. Another sporting interest, swimming, he turned to profitable use as he served as manager and life guard of the Haynesville City Pool during high school days.
Bill was close to his family in growing up. He and his brother, Herman, now a doctor, were inseparable. In the one letter he was able to write home from prison camp, Bill’s primary concern was not for his own situation, but rather for news of Herman’s first child. In Bill’s words,
“…Have been thinking about (the family) a lot and have wondered greatly about the new addition to the family …. Let the kid know about his Uncle Bill.”
Bill’s favorite fishing partner was his father who continually encouraged him in his athletic and career ambitions. Bill was close to and always considerate of his mother, never failing in the years he was away from home to call her on special occasions. His only and younger sister, Beth, was the recipient of much advice as well as special concern and protection. An age difference of 12 years was no barrier between Bill and his younger brother, Joe, whose active approach to life was so similar to Bill’s.
Thus did William H. Kellum’s full boyhood prepare him for the responsibilities of manhood.
Upon finishing high school, Bill served five months in the US Navy in the closing months of World War II. While in the Navy, he won a “golden gloves” championship, evidence of his interest and competence in the “manly art of self-defense,” an interest which was to bring further laurels at West Point.
As a recipient of an appointment to the US Military Academy, Bill left the Navy to attend Louisiana State University where he found time amidst his West Point preparatory studies to be first-string end on the football team and to win a second place medal in the ROTC boxing matches.
Matriculating to West Point in July 1946, Bill, by graduation day, 6 June 1950, was able to leave an enviable record behind him. Bill’s football exploits have already been related. In boxing, he won many more bouts than he lost. Skinny for a heavyweight, Bill is still remembered at West Point and by classmates around the world for “cutting down to his size” ring opponents who outweighed him frequently by as much as 50 pounds. Herb Kroten, one of his boxing coaches, accounts for Bill’s success (he went to the finals of the Eastern intercollegiate Championships one year and was elected co-captain of the boxing team his First Class year) by recalling his willingness “to take on anything.”
Athletics were not Bill’s only interests at West Point. He was a member of the Fishing Club and Radio Club and ranked relatively high militarily. However. Bill is remembered by his classmates as much for his personality as for his more objective achievements. The Howitzer was indeed right in asserting that “Bill’s warm Southern personality and ready humor will be long remembered by the Class of ’50.”
Only a few short months after graduation, Bill, in company with so many of his classmates, was called upon to utilize his West Point training on the field of battle sooner than he or anyone else expected. His country and his Alma Mater did not find him wanting! As a platoon leader of Company G, 21st Inf., he distinguished himself on the field of battle being awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. He had every reason to write home proudly when he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant only five months after graduation. Excerpts have already been quoted from his Silver Star citation. Equally stirring and indicative of his courageous spirit and military leadership are the following excerpts from his Bronze Star citation:
“During his regiment’s advance his platoon was the leading element …. With complete disregard for his safety Lieutenant Kellum exposed himself to a hail of withering fire in order to place his men in positions affording the maximum fire power and control. Moving far forward, he directed the effective fire of friendly artillery and mortars …. He then led an assault – routing the enemy … and permitting the continued advance of the regiment ……
Captured during an action in which he was heroically leading his platoon in defending a combat outpost 3,000 yards in front of the main line of resistance, Lieutenant Kellum was taken to a prison camp in Pyoktong in North Korea. Here he faced his final and perhaps his most formidable test of courage. A classmate whom Bill assisted while he himself was weak and sick reports that:
“…under these difficult conditions Bill was a model soldier. He resisted his captors’ every effort to organize a mass indoctrination program in the officers’ compound, and did more than his share of the work in helping his fellow prisoners to survive….
In spite of a complete lack of care and only crackers and rice for food, Bill, by sheer determination. recovered from flu, only to incur the wrath of the Chinese for organizing the ambulatory soldiers at what was, in name only, the prison camp’s hospital. Thrown into detention in a part of the “hospital” from which no prisoners ever emerged alive, Bill died a hero’s death staunchly defending his convictions and the traditions of his Alma Mater and country. Fellow prisoners report that Bill’s death occurred approximately 15 June 1951, a date which is more accurate than the year end date, 31 December 1951, assumed in AG official records.
In their tremendous and irreplaceable loss, Bill’s surviving parents and brothers and sister have been strengthened by a justifiable pride shared bv friends, classmates, and fellow officers in a man who died as he lived: courageous and determined to be true to his own high ideals whatever the danger, whatever the personal sacrifice.