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Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch, USN (1923-1951)

John Kelvin Koelsch was born on 22 December 1923 in London, England. He joined the Naval Reserve as an Aviation Cadet in September 1942 and was commissioned as an Ensign in October 1944 after completing flight training. During the next few years, he served in Composite Squadron 15 and in two torpedo squadrons. In August 1950, Lt(jg) Koelsch joined Helicopter Squadron One (HU-1) and was Officer in Charge of the helicopter detachment of USS Princeton (CV-37) during her 1950-51 Korean War deployment. In June 1951, he moved to Helicopter Squadron Two (HU-2), based at Wonsan, North Korea, for pilot rescue duty.

On 3 July 1951, while attempting to rescue an injured flyer, his helicopter was hit by enemy gunfire and crashed. Koelsch, his crewman and the rescued pilot survived the crash and hid from the surrounding enemy for nine days before they were captured. As a prisoner of war, Lt(jg) Koelsch exhibited great bravery and inspired his companions with his "fortitude and consideration for others". He died of malnutrition and dysentery while a captive on 16 October 1951. In August 1955, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his Korean War heroism.

USS Koelsch (DE-1049, later FF-1049) was named in honor of Lt(jg) Koelsch.

This page features our only view of John Kelvin Koelsch.

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Photo #: NH 48364

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch, USN

Portrait photograph, taken circa 1950.
LtJG Koelsch was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for heroism as a rescue helicopter pilot and as a prisoner of war in 1951, during the Korean War.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 86KB; 590 x 765 pixels


Medal of Honor citation of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch (as printed in the 1964 Congressional publication "Medal of Honor Recipients --1863-1963", page 764):

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Navy helicopter rescue unit in North Korea on 3 July 1951. Although darkness was rapidly approaching when information was received that a Marine aviator had been shot down and was trapped by the enemy in mountainous terrain deep in hostile territory, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Koelsch voluntarily flew a helicopter to the reported position of the downed airman in an attempt to effect a rescue. With an almost solid overcast concealing everything below the mountain peaks, he descended in his unarmed and vulnerable aircraft without the accompanying fighter escort to an extremely low altitude beneath the cloud level and began a systematic search. Despite the increasingly intense enemy fire, which struck his helicopter on one occasion, he persisted in his mission until he succeeded in locating the downed pilot, who was suffering from serious burns on the arms and legs. While the victim was being hoisted into the aircraft, it was struck again by an accurate burst of hostile fire and crashed on the side of the mountain. Quickly extricating his crewmen and the aviator from the wreckage, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Koelsch led them from the vicinity in an effort to escape from hostile troops, evading the enemy forces for 9 days and rendering such medical attention as possible to his severely burned companion until all were captured. Up to the time of his death while still a captive of the enemy, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States naval service."

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the "Online Library's" digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

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1 September 2000