WHEATON – It took nearly 45 years for John Kelly to visit the grave his fallen comrade, but only a few minutes for him to agree to tell the man's story.
During a Veterans Day assembly, Kelly spoke in front of 800 students at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, which is named for his friend and compatriot, Wheaton resident James Howard Monroe, who received the Medal of Honor after falling in battle.
"A lot of people think that a man who wins a Medal of Honor is someone that's like Rambo, some tough guy," he told the students. "But it usually isn't."
Kelly served with Monroe, a medic who he said he thought "was kind of a nerd" when they first met during the Vietnam War. Monroe died after jumping on exploding grenades to save others during an ambush, and act for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1968.
That medal now hangs in the office of Monroe Middle.
Community Unit School District 200 Superintendent Brian Harris said that he didn't know of any other school that could boast such an keepsake. While all the schools in the district held some kind of Veterans Day celebration, he said, those that hosted veterans such as Kelly were particularly lucky.
"It's a special day in our district, no doubt about it," he said. "It's a teachable moment about what Veterans Day means to our country. No lesson before or after this day can teach what they can hear today, hearing a veteran speak."
Kelly said he didn't know there was a school named after his friend until he visited Monroe's grave in March.
Another longtime friend, former Wheaton Fire Chief Greg Burk, talked him into visiting the grave site at Wheaton Cemetery, before taking him to the school to see the medal. Kelly worked hard with a fellow serviceman to obtain the honor for his fallen comrade.
Kelly said that the students of Monroe should take a lesson from his friend, Jimmy, who was always quick to learn new things and push others to better themselves.
"Look at history, question it, live fully in the present and shape the future," he said. "You are the future and you will be called upon to make decisions for this country."