Blanche Kelley displays her medals. The Army Commendation is second from left, medal row. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Decorated retired Army Master Sgt. Blanche Kelley, 93, of Westbrook, marks each Veterans Day — Nov. 11 — with many memories.

In her 23-year Army career,  Kelley was a chauffeur for some of the top Army brass and a witness to history. She also was the top female recruiter in the country three times and 10 times for the 1st Army headquartered in New York.

Three years after she graduated from high school in her hometown of Elwood, Indiana, Kelley hitched up with the Women’s Army Corps in 1950, intending to join its medical unit. But at a time when male soldiers were shipping out for the Korean War, she was assigned to the Pentagon as a replacement driver instead.

She received top-secret security clearance.

Blanche Kelley earned the right to wear a white uniform after being honored as a top recruiter for the U.S. Army.

Driving five-star Gen. Dwight Eisenhower ranks high on her list of experiences, she said. He was “very nice” and personally presented her with an autographed photo, she said. She also drove on several occasions for his wife, Mamie.

Besides Eisenhower, she also twice drove five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur and also French World War II hero Charles DeGaulle in “a NATO detail,” she said.


The famous military leaders often were surrounded by aides, and “you don’t talk unless you’re spoken to,” Kelley said.

Kelley wasn’t their chauffeur, but she did drive President Harry Truman. She was “around the corner” from the Blair House where Truman was living when shooting erupted in a 1950 assassination attempt.

Later, she met President John F. Kennedy.

Kelley eventually became a top recruiter, and won the Army Commendation medal, along with the right to wear a white uniform.

That medal is not standard issue, according to Dennis Marrotte, 1st Vice Commander of American Legion Post 62 in Westbrook, where Kelley has been a member for the past 50 years.

“The recipient must be nominated by higher authority,” Marrotte said.


She was the center of attention when she rode in a white convertible in a 1958 Armed Forces Day parade in Manhattan. She met TV star Jack Benny while filming an Army recruiting spot.

Recruiting assignments took her to Fairbanks, Alaska; Boston; Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth; Bangor and Portland. She was stationed for 15 years in New England. She settled permanently in Westbrook.

Asked how she became such a recruiting success, she said, “Tell ’em the truth and the kids are happy. When they come home, they do the recruiting for you.”

After retiring in 1973, she traveled extensively.

Kelley, who is single, is the last living of her siblings. Her fiancé, a high school classmate, was killed in the Korean War.

Kelley doesn’t look back with any regrets.

“None whatsoever,” she said.

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