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WWII veteran who survived COVID-19 publishes memoir

Bill Kelly hopes his memoir encourages others with stories of surviving the Great Depression, World War II and a global pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It should surprise no one that COVID-19 lost in a fight with Bill Kelly. 

“We are patriots,” said Kelly, a 96-year-old World War II veteran. “We do not give up. We fight, fight, fight!”

We first met Kelly in April, 2020. He had just come out of quarantine after catching the coronavirus. In fact, his whole family, including 2 great-grandchildren, recovered together in their McMinnville home.

“I admire his can-do spirit and attitude," said Kelly’s daughter, Susan Nelson.

Nelson said her father slept for nearly two weeks straight while healing from the virus. Now a year later, Kelly said he doesn’t feel any residual effects from the virus.

“Not at all,” said Kelly. “But I still like to sleep!”

This past year, Kelly’s family made preserving his legacy a priority. With her father's sharp memory and years of notes, Nelson wrote Kelly's memoir, The Adventures of Seabee Bill Reflections of a Navy Seabee in the South Pacific. The family is planning to donate a portion of the sales to the Pacific War Museum in Guam. 

“It's just inspiring to read and it's encouraging,” said Nelson. “If that can help anyone or bring a smile to anyone's face, that's the worth it right there.”

The book touches on the Great Depression and Kelly’s service with the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion. It also shares how he cared for his family and inevitably survived COVID-19.

“I think the Lord gives us so much to do and He looked at me and said, ‘Kelly, do it, do it, do it until you do it right!’”

If he does have unfinished business, Kelly said it might include motivating younger generations in his own special way.

“They’re like great, big boilers,” said Kelly. “They've got so much potential but their pilot light is out! You can't get them going. They say we're the Greatest Generation. Well I say they can be the Greatest Generation because what they're coming up against is going to be tough.”