A graduate of the Patchogue High School Class of 1942, John Harry Richard Kellers is a highly decorated veteran of World War II who performed with great valor in the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion of Normandy, one of the most ambitions and consequential miliary campaigns in world history. Born in 1925, Harry, as he is known to his friends, was a star pitcher on the Patchogue High baseball team. As the team’s most valuable player in 1942 he followed the PHS tradition of adding his signature to a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. That treasured ball was displayed proudly for many years in the school’s trophy case. Like many boys of his day, a few weeks before his 18th birthday Harry sought and received permission from his parents to enlist in the military in June 1943. Little did he know that only one year later he would be participating in such an enormous and terribly brutal battle.

Shipping out of Portsmouth, England in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, he and his comrades could not have prepared themselves for what they were about to experience. Harry was a portside gunner’s mate on landing craft LCT 539. At 7:30 a.m. they hit their target destination and the assault on Omaha Beach had begun. Harry’s job was to provide cover for the 16th Infantry 1st Division soldiers as they waded ashore from the landing craft during the invasion’s initial hours. It quickly became evident that the 20mm machine guns that Harry and his mates manned were no match for the large-caliber firepower that rained down on them from German positions on the bluffs above. Harry’s boat was hit by enemy fire and soldiers were blown up all around him, some before they ever left the craft. Any chance for Allied success would have to come from the wave after wave of landings, and the soldiers and gunners who attacked the enemy relentlessly. By the time the mission was complete and the fighting ended, some 156,000 Allied troops had joined the battle. On Harry’s small section of beach alone, more than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors lost their lives. Harry’s job then became to help load the injured and the dead — Allied as well as German — for transport back to England.

In 2009 Harry and several other American D-Day veterans were invited by the French government for a ceremony in Normandy to commemorate the 65-year anniversary of the invasion that turned the tide of the War. President Nicolas Sarkozy presented each of men with the French Medal of Honor (Légion d’Honneur), the highest order of merit France has to offer. In attendance were President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, England’s Prince Charles, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In May 2018 Harry participated in the annual National Memorial Day holiday concert on the south lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. He was among a small group of D-Day veterans whose story was filmed for television, narrated by the actors Sam Elliot and Dennis Haysbert. These days Harry spends his time quietly at his home on the Bay enjoying the company of his family, especially his four great grandchildren.