Rare honor bestowed on retiring admiral
Rear Adm. James Kelly was on his way to a lunch onboard USS George Washington on Tuesday when his driver made a wrong turn — or so Kelly thought.
As the car stopped in front of the base’s Fleet Recreation Center, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan peered outside the window and saw hundreds of sailors and civilians lining the streets for a surprise ceremony in his honor.
Little did Kelly know, a few minutes later he would be standing outside the newly named James D. Kelly Fleet Recreation Center.
The naming was based on Kelly’s prominent role in shaping the Navy’s presence in Japan and his care for the sailors in theatre.
Formerly known as Building 3008, the five-story facility houses a single-sailor lounge, food court, gym, Navy uniform shop, Navy college office and many other leisure-based activities for sailors.
Vice Adm. John Bird, the 7th Fleet Commander and accomplice of the surprise ceremony, delivered a speech commemorating the dedication.
"This building exists for the mental and physical well-being of our men and women in uniform," said Bird. "I can think of no building more fitting of your name than this one."
While the naming of buildings and streets is usually something reserved for posthumous tributes, Navy instructions state that in exceptional cases, living persons may also be honored.
"I’m stunned and amazed," the tearful Kelly said of the honor.
Kelly, who will retire next month after 36 years of service, said that the successes and accomplishments of his tours were not his alone.
"It was always about us," Kelly, said pointing to those in attendance. "It’s about pride and appreciation of what we do as sailors."