RICHARD OLIVER KELLEHER was born in 1921 in New Jersey to Harry A. and Ruth Kelleher. The Kelleher family had moved to New Jersey from Pennsylvania around 1918. In 1930 the family lived at 220 Logan Avenue in Audubon NJ, Harry Kelleher listing his employment for the Census as a salesman of food products, he later became plant manager for the Campbell Soup Company in Camden NJ. His uncle was Democrat Party activist Edward J. Kelleher, who was Camden County Treasurer from 1937 to 1943 and later served as the executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Camden.
They Kelleher family moved to 300 Second Avenue in neighboring Haddon Heights NJ sometime after the April 1930 federal census. Richard Kelleher graduated on June 13, 1939 from Haddon Heights High School, where he was a member of the basketball team. He joined the Merchant Marine around the time of Pearl Harbor to "seek adventure".
Richard Oliver Kelleher was working in the engine room aboard the tanker SS Patrick J. Hurley as a fireman/water-tender when she was sunk on September 12, 1942. Also serving aboard aboard the Hurley was a boyhood friend, Joseph Adamson, of Audubon NJ. The Hurley was in the Caribbean when a German U-Boat surfaced and sank her with fire from the deck gun.
On the night of 12 September 1942, U-512 commanded by Kptlt. Wolfgang Schultze, stealthily surfaced and closed the Hurley, undetected, before she opened fire with devastating effect. Armed guard commander Lieutenant Junior Grade Patrick Joseph Walsh fell severely wounded in the initial shelling, taking shrapnel in the throat. In spite of the withering machine-gun fire directed at his battle station on the bridge, Lieutenant Junior Grade Walsh remained at his post, though weak from loss of blood. For displaying selfless gallantry in battle, Walsh was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals.
After the crew abandoned the doomed tanker, the SS Patrick J. Hurley - set ablaze in the South Atlantic by shell fire from a surfaced U-Boat - 22-year-old George Goldman of Jersey City watched from a lifeboat as the unmanned ship, engines still operating, steamed away and blew up in a fiery explosion on the horizon.
"There were 23 of us in the boat," said Goldman, recalling that September day 56 years ago in World War II. "We looked for survivors, but the sea was too rough. You could hear whistles that were attached to their lifejackets, long high plaintive notes. We lost our captain, 13 crew members, and four Navy gunners. I can still hear those whistles blowing over the water."
Survivor Joseph Adamson reported that Richard Kelleher remained at his station in the engine room to complete his duties before coming to the deck to abandon ship. Before he could reach the rail to leap overboard he was trapped when a shell exploded, wounding him in the leg. Joseph Adamson's brother, William Charles Adamson, was killed in North Africa while serving with the Army air Force in 1943.
13 of the drew, including Richard Kelleher, were lost, and four of the United States Navy sailors serving as armed guard aboard the Hurley.
The U-512 had only 20 more days left herself. She was sunk October 2, 1942 north of Cayenne, French Guiana, in position 06.50N, 52.25W, by depth charges from an American B-18 A bomber. The B18, piloted by Lt. Lehti of the 99th Bombardment Squadron based at Zandery in Dutch Guiana, took off at midnight on October 2, 1942, and flew eastwards to its assigned patrol area along the French Guiana coast. At about 4:00 a.m., the radar operator advised Lehti that he had a contact at twelve miles. Lehti brought the aircraft down to three hundred feet and began his run in. At a mile, he was over a U-boat's wake, heading northwest. Within seconds, the boat was spotted moving very slowly and fully surfaced. The B-18 dropped lower and came boring in, dropping two depth-bombs as it crossed the U-boat. One 650 pound bomb entered the water ahead of the boat with another 325 pound bomb 30 feet further on. The U-boat, although obviously damaged by the blast, has disappeared by the time that Lehti could get his aircraft round for a second attack. Lehti turned his B-18 for the shore 120 miles distant, crossing over the prominent Cayenne lighthouse, he got a good check on his position. Re-crossing the lighthouse on a reciprocal course, he flew back towards the scene of the attack. Nine miles from the position of the previous attack, his radar operator advised that he had a contact at the original attack position. Lehti brought his bomber close to the water and ran in on the radar contact, catching the U-boat by surprise, once more on the surface. As the B-18 crossed the U-boat, Lehti released two 325 pound bombs simultaneously, both bombs plummeting into the water close alongside the U-boat. After the explosion, there was no sign of the boat. Lehti did not claim a kill on his arrival back at his base, but a B-18 was ordered to make a reconnaissance of the area at dawn. The reconnaissance aircraft found a large oil patch at the center of which was a man in a life jacket, the sole survivor of the sunken U-boat. The aircraft dropped a dinghy to the survivor and watched the exhausted man climb into it. The survivor was subsequently rescued by the USS Ellis after spending 10 days on a life raft which the aircraft dropped to his aid. The U-boat was later identified as the U-512. Of her crew of 51, there was only one survivor. The sole survivor, Matrosengefreiter Franz Machen, spent 10 days on a life raft which the aircraft dropped to his aid before being rescued by the US destroyer USS Ellis (DD-154). He survived partly by killing and eating seabirds that attacked him while he lay exposed on the raft.
Richard O. Kelleher was survived by his parents, of the Haddon Heights address, older brother Harry A. Jr., older sister Ruth M., and a younger brother, Herbert D. Kelleher, who went on to become the founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines. His father passed away shortly afterwards, on February 21, 1943.
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