Thomas W. Kelly – Lieutenant General, United States Army

From a contemporary press report

Thomas W. Kelly, 67, a retired Army Lieutenant General who became known to millions of Americans for his daily Pentagon briefings of the press and public during the Persian Gulf War, died of cancer June 6, 2000 at his home in Clifton, Virginia.

During the Gulf War, General Kelly served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that job, in addition to briefing the media, he helped plan the enormously successful operation that became known as Desert Storm.

General Kelly, who also had helped plan the American military action in Panama that removed a corrupt regime, was an armored officer and decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War. Over a career that would last 34 years, he had commanded everything from a cavalry platoon to a tank brigade.

But his hour of fame came in explaining American military strategy, tactics and actions during the Gulf War. During that period, the blunt general, who was proud to call himself a tanker, became widely admired by the media as an honest, erudite and even witty service spokesman.

He once memorably put the progress of the war in perspective with the simple statement that “Iraq went from the fourth-largest army in the world to the second-largest army in Iraq in 100 hours.”

The televised briefings featured his quickly authoritative answers to pointed and at times impassioned questions from a seemingly adversarial media. Much of that same media ended up admiring the general, who revealed both good and bad news with candor and who skillfully and politely avoided questions he could not answer for security reasons.

In March 1991, General Kelly announced his retirement from the Army. In the kind of statement that usually thanked fellow officers and sometimes mentioned the American people, he added a sharp defense of the news media and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

He said: “I’ve just got to say that, believe it or not, I’ve enjoyed this little interlude. . Got a lot of letters from people who really don’t understand the hurly-burly and give-and-take of a press briefing, and at no time were you ever impolite to me and at no time did I ever become offended. And as you know, I hold a lot of you in great respect.”

He concluded: “The last thing I’d like to say is that having a free press has served the United States well for 215 years. It is a crucial element in our democracy. And if anybody needs a contrast, all they have to do is look at the country that didn’t have a free press and see what happened there.”

When the general completed his statement, the media burst into applause.

General Kelly, a Philadelphia native, was a 1956 journalism graduate of Temple University, where he also was a member of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Commissioned in the Army in 1957, he served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. During those years, he was a squadron operations officer in the elite 1st Infantry Division (“Big Red One”). During that tour, he also flew in 13 helicopters that were shot down.

His other Army assignments included tours as war plans officer with NATO’s forces in Southern Europe. He also had served as an assistant infantry division commander, and as head of the Army Security Affairs Command and of Fort Dix, New Jersey, and as director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s special operations agency.

General Kelly’s military awards included the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, three awards of the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, five awards of the Bronze Star with “V” and the Purple Heart.

He also had received awards from the CIA, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 1995, he was presented with the American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal.

In retirement, General Kelly had spent two years as a professional speaker and was a director of Enron Corp. before joining the Wing Group in 1995. Before retiring in 1999, he had served as Wing Group president and vice chairman and had worked for the company’s goals of building natural gas power plants in China, Pakistan, Europe and the Middle East.

Survivors include his wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1957 and who lives in Clifton; two sons, Francis, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Vincent, of Clifton; a daughter, Elizabeth O’Leary of Manassas; and four grandchildren.


June 6, 2000, of Clifton, VA. Devoted husband of Dorothy M. Kelly; beloved father of Vincent (Stacie) Kelly, Frank X. (Mary E.) Kelly and Elizabeth (Patrick)  O’Leary. Cherished grandfather of four. Also survived by four sisters. Friends may call at the Memorial Chapel of  Ft. Myer, Arlington, VA on Wednesday, June 14, 2000 from 9 to 10:30 a.m., where a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered that afternoon at 1:45 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic, P.O. Box 297153, Houston, TX 77297; The American Cancer Society; or ASCO Foundation for Cancer Research, 225 Reineckers Ln., Suite 650, Alexandria, VA 22314.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 11/16/1932
  • DATE OF DEATH: 06/06/2000

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment