ARLINGTON, VA -- Sgt. Robert A. Kelm linked his arm to that of his wife and walked solemnly behind his platoon to the final resting place of his grandfather in Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 10.
The silent march of Rescue platoon, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), would be broken, in part, by a distant 21-gun salute typical in what is professed to be the nation's most hallowed ground. The marker at which they stopped represented the history that Kelm's family had made and his resolve to carry it forward.
Within a few feet of Army 1st Lt. Arthur W. Kelm's place of peace, Kelm reaffirmed his commitment to the United States Marine Corps.
"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," intoned Kelm. "That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Even as Kelm's words hung in the frozen winter air, his grandfather's history resounded within his memory...
As the fighting raged on Omaha beach during the D-day invasion, Kelm's commanding officer was killed and (Master Sergeant) Kelm was consequently given a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. Several days after the beach head was secure, 2nd Lt. Kelm and his squad captured several German officers near the French town of Brest. Kelm was wounded in the attack, but remained to interrogate the German officers. His interrogation uncovered several key German plans to cut off the U.S. troops. This information saved many U.S. lives. Kelm was consequently awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for this action.
Kelm's heroic story continued as the Third Army moved across France into Luxemburg. The Germans launched the infamous counter-attack commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. During this battle, Kelm led his squad through heavy German fire to control a key bridge position, holding the bridge until replacements could arrive. As Kelm and his squad defended the position, they inflicted severe casualties to the enemy. Kelm was wounded again in the conflict and captured, only to escape and rejoin his unit three months later. For these actions Kelm was awarded a second Bronze Star and a second Purple Heart (historical information based on a account courtesy of Dr. John Kelm.)
These acts of heroism have crossed the span of 50 years to inspire Robert Kelm, the third generation of family boots on the ground.
"I keep my grandfather's history on my computer at work and at home," Kelm said. "I read it at least once a week and when I do I feel there isn't anything I can't handle."
The inspiration from his grandfather as well as the relationships he has developed with his fellow rescue technicians strengthened the desire of the Lawrence, Kan., native to reenlist.
"I consider the Marines in Rescue Platoon my brothers and sisters," said Kelm. "There isn't anything that I would ask them to do that I haven't done or wouldn't do. I would give my life for any of them."
Kelm who originally joined the Marine Corps in 1999 to "serve my country and carry on the family tradition that my grandfather started and my parents continued by their service to the U.S. Air Force," found himself weighing other factors in light of his recent marriage to his wife, Amy.
"The decision to reenlist didn't just affect me, as a career choice it affects both of us," the crash fire rescue technician said. "The hardships that I would be putting her through like deployments and taking her time away from her family were key factors in my choice."
Ultimately it was his wife's support that completed the final piece for Kelm to continue his family's military history.
"If I didn't have her support and I knew reenlisting would not go over well with her," said Kelm, "the outcome could have been much different."
Kelm walked from the hallowed ground as he had arrived - arm in arm with his wife.
"I hope that I will be able to make an impact on someone's life like my grandfather has made on mine," said Kelm. "I hope that I can live up to his legacy."