The passing of a giant. Clem Kelly
Posted 08 February 2018 - 06:20 AM
Posted 08 February 2018 - 06:33 AM
Clem was truly a gentleman and I personally believe if it wasn't for him the Vietnam collecting would not be where it is at today.
No matter how simple of a question you asked, Clem was always happy to sit down a type out an answer.
I know he personally helped me many times over the last thirty years.
He will be missed for sure.
Posted 09 February 2018 - 04:37 PM
Posted 09 February 2018 - 04:44 PM
Condolences and Sympathy for the family and those who knew him
Posted 10 February 2018 - 06:41 AM
Clem Kelly’s departure is part of a generational change within our hobby and collecting interest.He was what I would call one of few remaining “original collectors”, having lived during both World War II and Vietnam.Clem’s introduction to military collecting was, like the man himself, somewhat unique.During World War II, he had a paper route in his native New Orleans. At the end of his route, was a POW compound holding German prisoners from the Africa campaign.Sometimes at the end of his deliveries he had extra newspapers. He would ride down to the compound and throw them over to the fence to the news hungry POW’s. Over time they reciprocated by tossing back various medals and badges. Straight from the source, you might say.Clem later joined the Merchant Marine, and rode ships taking Marshall Plan supplies to relieve Europe. At Bremerhaven and other ports, women and children would greet the ships with goods to trade. Many of them were quite happy to rid themselves of Nazi badges, medals (some rare and unique) and other items in exchange for a pack of cigarettes or a tin of food.Clem continued as a radio operator, riding ammunition ships and drawing hazardous duty pay during the Vietnam War. Back before container vessels, it would take a couple days to (carefully) unload the cargos, giving Clem time to peruse the many tailors, shops and even street vendors making uniforms and insignia for the US, ARVN and Allies. He became a frequent customer of the shop of Luang Phan, also known as Cheap Charlie’s near the Brink Hotel, and reportedly knew the proprietor quite well. (Which would later put him in a unique position to debunk many of the items carelessly called “Cheap Charlie made”.)With the advantage of his travels, Clem assembled an unimaginable collection from both wars. I never had the chance to see it, but those who did had nothing but the highest praise.Clem was not content to keep his accumulated knowledge to himself. He eventually took over Cecil Smyth’s Vietnam Insignia Collector’s Newsletter (reverently referred to by experienced collectors as the VICN). This was before the internet, and before we had very much else in the way of reference material (with the exception of Jim McDuff’s book of Selected US Army Insignia of the Vietnam War). It was a photocopied newsletter, hand pasted together by Clem. Collectors, many of them veterans, contributed the bits and pieces that they had and either shared their knowledge or asked assistance in identification. In a way, it was the paper forerunner of the US Militaria Forum.As Bob noted, this was the foundation for many of us that later picked up the hobby. Copies of these issues, if you can find them, are jealously guarded by their owners. Even today, they still contain information that is hard to come by.Circulation at its point was about 120, although it tapered off in later years. Clem suspected photocopies were being circulated, and the declining numbers contributed to the decision to shut it down.One of the unique features of the VICN was the last section called Sniping at the Fakers. It was one of the first efforts to shine a light on the repro artists both in the US and abroad. I compiled these into a separate binder for easy reference, on occasion learned the lesson that I had been burned by something that had looked all so real. I wrote Clem and suggested he should publish this and other information he had on fakes in a reference book. I think he knew how huge a task that would be and he turned it back on me saying “Great idea… why don’t you do it!” That was in 1994, I did produce a book, and I now write on websites today! I think he laughed at me more than once for taking on such a folly!Clem went on to write for Military Trader and other venues. His width of collecting knowledge covered the oddest items, including Italian Fascist militaria. For all of our discussions on Vietnam militaria, I would never have pictured that being part of his expertise. However several articles on the subject proved otherwise.Clem of course moved on in years. He effectively downsized his collection over time, mostly through private sales and working with dealers that he trusted. I inherited some of the Vietnam era fakes that come his way, but I suspect he would have ended up burning them anyway. I understand a number of advanced collections benefited from this dispersal of years of collecting effort.I regret to say I had lost contact with Clem in recent years. But I have a file of the letters we exchanged that is probably 4 inches thick. And I will always have the benefit of his experience and guidance.Clem always had time to listen, particularly to novice collectors. He also could be quite fiery with fake artists or “experts” who had no idea what they were talking about.As others have noted, he will be missed. There will never be another Clem Kelly.
Well said Gil.
Posted 11 February 2018 - 05:34 PM
Vaya Con Dios Clem!
Thank you for the memories and your service to our ranks - not to be forgotten.
Posted 11 February 2018 - 10:13 PM
Posted 12 February 2018 - 05:03 AM
Very nice obituary Gil. Thank you for taking the time to write it up. Clem Kelly was 87 years when he died. Clem served in the US Navy Reserve, the US Army during the Korean War, attended the US Merchant Marine Academy and spent 30 years sailing the world. His interest in collecting militaria was universal. His knowledge was unlimited as he could recount every tailor shop, every person and every circumstance where he obtained every item he acquired.
Clem spent more than seven years going in and out of Vietnam during the war. He knew every tailor by name and he had a story behind every insignia and every uniform. Clem wrote numerous articles and was happy to share information, but remained in the shadows, never attending shows and reluctant to have his address or phone number distributed to the public. Nearly 30 years ago I was fortunate to meet Clem and his lovely wife Suzy. At that time he gave me his collection of Vietnam militaria to sell on consignment. His collection was so vast that I still have some it posted for sale on eBay.
God bless you Clem, I pray for your soul.
Posted 12 February 2018 - 08:45 AM
Thank you Bill, for filling in some of the gaps. I had forgotten some of these things.
Clem had a unique and extraordinary life in so many ways.
Posted 12 February 2018 - 10:56 AM
R. James Bender's MILITARY ADVISOR, Vol 28, Number 4, the last issue, contained Clem's article of French Foreign Legion Insignia. At the time the issue arrived, Clem was in the hospital and never saw his own article. Military Advisor will carry an obit in their next quarterly issue. Thanks again.
Posted 13 February 2018 - 09:43 AM
Bill-Thanks for the history on this great person that we all respected.
Posted 13 February 2018 - 10:20 AM
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When i have crossed the bar.
Alfred Lord Tennyson S
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