"Stump"-The Man

STUMP! is a written attempt to pay tribute to a unique forefather of the modern day SEALS. One of the original World War II Navy frogmen, Lee “Stump” Kelley stood barely five feet five inches tall—hence his nickname—but he always cast a large shadow. A star athlete in high school, he made up for his lack of size with determination and pure grit—setting meet records as a champion swimmer and wielding a “mean stick” on the hockey rink.


Dirt poor as a child due to his spendthrift Vaudevillian parents, he had to “sing for his supper” on stage while his father in black face makeup and wearing a pair of over-sized white spectacles played the clarinet and told corny jokes. His mother, a Mary Pickford look-alike, hoofed it in the chorus line and played drums. Early on he learned the hard way that life was a challenge that had to be met head on, with no second thoughts. Willing to try anything—because he often had to—his quick wit and good looks made him a hit with the girls.


I met Lee Kelley ten years ago, when he was already in his 70’s. He liked to sit on his front lawn in a fold-up chair, reading a book as he soaked up the afternoon California sunshine and chatted with passers-by. One day as I was walking my dog he waved me over with his “shillelagh.” “Hey, Big Guy!” he said.  (Compared to him, I was a giant, so the moniker would stick.) “Is that a Corgi you’ve got there? Great breed. I love dogs. Used to raise champion boxers myself. Mind if I pet him?” Always gregarious with his impish grin, Lee could make friends with anyone. Even a stand-offish cuss like me.


After that, sitting on his front porch in the afternoon became a looked-forward-to ritual for both of us. We’d watch people go by—him waving, me nodding—and chew the fat about this and that. Lee loved to talk—he often joked he’d been “vaccinated with a phonograph needle”—so I mostly listened to him pontificate about his war, his experiences in America’s space program, and life in general. He always had several great stories to tell and I looked forward to them all. Even if I’d heard them a few times before.


Never one to mince words, when Lee had a burr up his butt about something he always spoke his mind. A staunch conservative, his topics ranged from politics to the dumbing down of America. Always colorful, sometimes crude, his opinion was usually dead on. A prime example was his take on the current “dunderheads” in Washington. — “Congress has its head wedged so far up its collective ass, it’s got closed circuit diarrhea. It’s no wonder they can’t pass anything.”


After leveling such a politically incorrect blast—two words he detested— Lee would laugh behind that famous wink of his, then say something like: “Of course, opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one. But that doesn’t mean you have to take mine to heart. I guess that’s what makes this country great.”  


Although Lee Kelley’s life could fill several volumes, STUMP! is limited to his experiences (along with a few tall tales) from the time he enlisted in the Navy at the beginning of World War II until he was honorably discharged shortly after it ended. Hopefully you’ll find my book as interesting as I found the man. 

© Copyright 2022 Larry Lindsey. All Rights Reserved.

Login »