Mildred C. Kelly – Command Sergeant Major, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

A small group of mourners braved a large snow storm last week to bury retired Army Command Sergeant Major Mildred C. Kelly in Section 67 of Arlington National Cemetery. Kelley was the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of Sergeant Major and Command Sergeant Major.

Kelly (75) passed away January 27, 2003, after struggling with cancer.

Constance Burns, of the Army Center for Military History, visited Kelly in her hospital room day before she died. Burns got to know Kelly while organizing a conference on African Americans in the Korean War to be held at Morgan State University April 16-19. Kelly was to appear on a panel discussing Black women's role in the Korean War.

“She was a great warrior,” Burns said. “She loved to get women's stories out there. Even when she was going through all that stuff [cancer], she kept it to herself.”

Kelly graduated from Knoxville College, Tennessee with a degree in chemistry in 1949. She briefly taught high school before joining the Army in 1950.

Kelly became the first black female Sergeant Major in the Army, while serving at the Pentagon in 1972. She achieved another first two years later when she became first female Command Sergeant Major at a major installation.

Retiring in 1976, Kelly remained active by serving on a multitude of boards and commissions such as: the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, the Maryland Veterans Commission and the Veterans Advisory Board.

Burns met Kelly at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Brain Trust in 1993.

“She sat with the Congressional Black Caucus,” Burns said. “She served on the hill honoring black veterans. She volunteered to help get the story out. She was very patriotic.”

Kelly is survived by an older brother, Frederick Kelly, dean of students at a Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, niece Sheila Lewis a marketing consultant in the San Francisco area and two nephews. Doctor Rayburn Lewis of Seattle and Ron Lewis, Deputy Director of SoundTransit in Seattle.

Frederick Kelly remembered his sister fondly.

“She taught school for six weeks, then joined the military,” Frederick Kelly said. “She just decided she didn't want to teach school She had an outstanding career. She talked about it quite a lot. I was very impressed with the service. She was one of the fore runners of the [Women In Military Service to America] memorial.”


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 03/01/1947 – 04/01/1976
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 01/24/1928
  • DATE OF DEATH: 01/27/2003
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 02/07/2003

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