A lot of good has come out of a lot of bad.

These were words spoken by Gold Star father Joe Kelley during a recent Rotary Club of Scituate meeting.

Gold Star is a distinction given to an immediate relative or family of a U.S. serviceman or woman who was killed in action. Kelley lost his son, Michael J. Kelley, in June of 2005 after a rocket attack on an American base in Shkin, Afghanistan. Sgt. Kelley, age 26, was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 101st Field Artillery.

Michael had only been in Afghanistan for 69 days when he was killed.

Kelley recalled the knock on the door to the family’s house late in the evening on the night he was told of his son’s death.

“It’s worse than what you see in the movies,” he said. “Your legs just go out from under you.”

His son’s death was not the focus of the presentation Kelley gave to his fellow Rotarians, however. Instead, he spoke of good things, primarily the ongoing success and enrollment increase at a school in Afghanistan named in Michael’s honor.

The school is located in a “really miserable place,” Kelley said.

“It’s up in the mountains. You need a helicopter to get there.”

In the nearby village, there is no electricity or cell phone service.

But the school is thriving.

Recent photos indicate the school looks well maintained, and there haven’t been any insurgent activities at all, Kelley said.

“The school has four teachers now,” Kelley said, “and almost 700 students.”

The school, located on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, is for children ages 5-13. It has eight classrooms and is open to both boys and girls who are taught in split sessions.

“When it first opened there were only two teachers, the principal and a teacher,” Kelley said.

It was Razia Jan, founder of the Zabuli Education Center in her native Afghanistan, and herself a Rotarian, who approached the Rotary Club of Scituate to ask if the organization could pay for two additional teachers, since enrollment at the school was on the rise.

A teacher’s salary is only about $150 a month, Kelley said.

Jan, a South Shore resident, makes frequent trips to Afghanistan and personally delivers supplies to the school on her visits.

“They are so appreciative,” Kelley said of the students at the school. “And we are so fortunate to be associated with Razia.”

The school remains close to the heart of the Rotary Club of Scituate as well.

Through grants and fundraising, the club has assisted the school with piping and a wellhead for a malfunctioning well. The club has also purchased soccer balls and cricket equipment so the students can play soccer and cricket. Last October the club paid for 400 school uniforms for the boys – girls must adhere to a stricter dress code and cannot wear uniforms.

“It’s like a badge of honor,” Kelley said of the students having school uniforms.

The Rotary Club has also sent over new coloring books, crayons, and big water containers.

“Last year we raised money, and got a grant, that supplied coats, hats, mittens and boots,” Kelley said.

The school was built in 2011 by Task Force Yankee, Massachusetts Army National Guard through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. It was dedicated in December of that year in the honor of Sgt. Michael J. Kelley.

Prior to the dedication ceremony, Brig. General John Hammond, commander of Task Force Yankee, 26th Yankee Brigade, Massachusetts Army National Guard, and Command Sgt. Major William Davidson handed out donated gift packages filled with candy and school supplies to the Afghanistan children, Kelley said.

Hammond addressed the students, village leaders, and Afghan officials who attended the event and said the school supplies that had been handed out came from children in America as a gift of friendship and peace to the children in Afghanistan.

“Michael loved kids,” Kelley said. “He had illustrated a couple of children’s books. This is certainly a nice tribute to Michael. It’s a shame he had to be killed in order for this to happen.”

Since Michael’s death, the Kelley family continues to support the school, as well as those serving in the U.S. military, and their families.

There are some Gold Star families who don’t want anything to do with the military, Kelley said.

They are angry at the military because the military took away their son or daughter.

For Kelley, he has to accept and respect that Michael had wanted to join the military and go overseas.

“We attend various events because of Michael,” he said. “We’re invited to various events because of Michael. Our family’s mission is to keep the memory of Michael alive.”

 

Legacy

Michael’s memory continues to live on in other ways.

The Tactical Training Base on Cape Cod is named in honor of Michael. The training base provides servicemen and women with state-of-the-art facilities for training to prepare them for overseas missions.

The bridge on Route 3A stretching over the North River was dedicated in Michael’s name in 2007, and a scenic freedom trail that runs through property of the Christ Lutheran Church on Chief Justice Cushing Highway (Route 3A), where the Kelleys are members, also bears Michael’s name.

Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth.