“To the President of the United States in 1956” – a story of human integrity


Here is a WWII aviation story, but the element I would like to draw your attention to happens 18 years after the aviation event.


Colin Kelly.jpg


Above is Colin Kelly Jr., a B-17 pilot from Florida. He was a 1937 West point graduate. He was killed on December 10th 1941,  the third day of America’s involvement in WWII. He had just completed a bombing mission and was returning with a crippled plane to Clark Field in the Philippines. It caught fire, he ordered the crew to bail out, but stayed behind to fly the plane to buy them the chance to escape. They did, but the plane exploded and took Kelly’s life. He was just 26 years old. He was married and had an infant son, who carried his fathers name. 


A week later, this heroic deed was brought to the attention of the President of the United states, Franklin Roosevelt.  Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Nations’ second highest award for valor. When the president is made aware that Kelley had an infant son, who will never know his father, he is overwhelmed.  As he sits at the presidential desk in the oval office, FDR hand writes a letter titled ” To the President of the United States in 1956″. It is asking  the person who will hold the office 15 years in the future, to appoint Colin Kelly’s son to West Point, to allow him to follow his fathers path. FDR writes this knowing his ill health will likely never let him see 1956, but the content of the letter expresses his great faith in the future of country. FDR places the letter in the drawer of the desk, to wait 15 years. He dies in office in 1945, 3 and 1/2 years after writing the letter.


 In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower, himself a 1915 west point graduate, is elected to his second term. In 1959, Colin Kelly the third, becomes of age, and Eisenhower offers him an official presidential appointment to West Point. The 18 year old young man, who never knew his father, considers this, but refuses to accept the Presidents offer.


For reasons of personal integrity, Colin Kelly III, insists on taking the competitive entrance examination for West point. He decides he will earn a place in the class of 1963, but he will not accept an appointment, as he might be taking the place of a more qualified candidate. He intended to serve his country, but he didn’t feel he was owed anything. After the test, he qualified by examination. He graduated with the class of 1963, and went on to serve in the US Army for 20 years. He then served as a pastor in the same church for 27 years, before retiring.




I have known this small piece of American history for more than 25 years.  The part of the story that I find most moving is Colin Kelly III refusal to accept an appointment.  It is an outstanding act of integrity to understand that no matter what is offered you, even at just 18 years of age and speaking with the president of the US, he still had integrity to not accept what he had not earned, particularly if this meant he might be taking the place of a better qualified person.


This story came to mind about a month ago, when I was listening to someone I know, who holds an important position which requires integrity, was speaking of their child graduating from college, and going on to start working in the same field. Without the slightest hesitation, the parent said they were going to “Pull a lot of strings to get (their child) a good job.”


I understand supporting one’s child, and I think there is nothing wrong at all with doing everything one can to provide the education to make their child the most qualified applicant, but this isn’t what the person was saying. They were directly stating they didn’t care who was the most qualified applicant, they had connections, and could call in favors, and thought there was nothing wrong with doing so. When I politely asked if their child was OK with this, the parent said “Of course, we paid for their college, they will do as we say”. 


I was thinking about mentioning to them that their child is nearly 21, and is a responsible adult: they can sit on a jury in a capitol case and in many states, decide if someone else is put to death, and maybe it wasn’t ok that they just “do as we say”.  I wanted to tell  the same person about the story of Colin Kelly III, who even at 18 fully understood integrity, but in the end I decided that I was never going to get this person to consider that perspective, as they had long ago misplaced their own integrity, and likely had no interest in looking for it again.






The complete letter from FDR, dated December 17th, 1941:

“To the President of the United States in 1956:

I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.”






About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

2 Responses to “To the President of the United States in 1956” – a story of human integrity

  1. Sonny Webster says:

    Great story on integrity and a value system that is slipping away from our country. Thanks for sharing William.

  2. Brad Jamison says:

    Tremendous story. One of the best you’ve ever posted. I wish more people understood the importance of integrity & its needed application in everything we do. Thanks, WW!

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