Obituary: Moses Benjamin Kelly

Moses Kelly, Secret Service Agent to five presidents, has died at 96

Services for Mr. Moses Benjamin Kelly will be held on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 10:00 A.M. at Good Aim Baptist Church, located at 1308 Cherokee Blvd, Elgin, SC 29045. Interment will follow at Fort Jackson National Cemetery, 4170 Percival Road, Columbia, SC 29229. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that monetary donations be made to the Memory Tribute established in the name of Moses B. and Eleanor Kelly with the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, 140 Stoneridge Drive, Columbia, S.C. 29210 or send your donations to www.alz.org/sc. 

Moses Kelly

Moses Benjamin Kelly will forever be remembered and honored as a man of character, honesty and integrity. Widely known for his leadership ability and his impeccable style, “Kelly” also affectionately known as “Sarge” or “1st Sgt”., and called “MB” by his loving wife Eleanor, was a testament to determination, commitment, tenacity and his ability to lead and inspire others by setting an example of unparalleled excellence. Rather than mourn his absence, those who knew him celebrate his incredible life and legacy, as well as his notable and distinguished service to his fellow man and country. Moses, 96, lived a life worthy of a best-selling novel. He served 22 years in the U. S. Army and 23 years with the U. S. Department of Treasury and the U. S. Secret Service Division, providing presidential protection to five former U. S. Presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Carter and H. W. Bush).

In 1943, Moses was drafted into the 24th Infantry Regiment of the U. S. Army Air Corps, which was initially active from 1869 to 1951, and again from 1995 to 2006. It was among the first U. S. Army divisions to see combat in WWII and among the last to stop fighting. More importantly, it was made up of African American soldiers, better known as “Buffalo Soldiers”.

The regiment was notable for serving the country when systematic racism was overt, and when black troops were treated as second class citizens due to segregation. Moses served as a member of this infantry regiment until 1946. Shortly thereafter, he joined the regular Army at the height of WWII and received his basic training at Shepherd Field Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. There, he was one of two African American recruits out of a total class of 36 students. Sheppard Field, at that time, was, and remains, the largest military training base in the world and provides training for all branches of the military, DOD agencies and foreign nationals.

At Sheppard Field, Moses was an outstanding recruit and student. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the Hamilton Army Airfield Base in California. In 1948, Moses was assigned to overseas duty in Japan, where he began to distinguish himself as an exceptional leader and military soldier. Even though he served in a segregated Army, and during a time when the military was transitioning from segregation to open service for all races, Moses was a dedicated and excellent soldier.

Dutiful in even the most mundane tasks amid widespread racial oppression and discrimination, he moved obstacles to success out of his path by completing tasks and assignments with proficiency, dedication and excellence. He was determined to be the very best, a trait that became the fodder of his entire life. Even as he excelled, he challenged the unjust and tough assignments given to him by always completing them with excellence and a fierce determination to succeed.

In 1950, Moses was assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where he was selected to attend the non-commissioned Officers Academy. Upon completing his studies at the Academy, he was immediately selected to teach Leadership Principles and Leadership Traits. Moses was assigned to Camp McCauley, Austria in 1953, where he was one of two African American instructors out of a total of 36 students. In Austria, he continued his teaching duties, and before long, his superiors began to notice him and how he conducted his training classes and how he responded to, challenged, and encouraged his young recruits. There was something about him and his style of teaching that intrigued them.

His superiors observed as Moses challenged his students to think outside their comfort zone and in doing so, create possibilities that they did not realize existed. Known as a “Master Motivator”, he inspired and motivated the minds of difficult and incorrigible men. When the Commanding Officer visited the base in Austria, Moses was always expected to teach several classes in the presence of the General.

In 1961, Moses was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant, the highest U. S. Army NCO rank, as one of only a handful of African Americans to be appointed to this rank at a time. In this position, Moses was responsible for the administration of a company of over 150 enlisted men and officers. He was also responsible for promoting the Army Career Program and, together with the Commander, conducted classes and exercises on infantry and guerilla tactics to platoons. He also assisted the Commander in the administration of military justice and discipline, counseled enlisted men on personal problems; and maintained a close liaison with the Red Cross.

His toughness was noted among other Officers as well as the Commanding Officer and quickly earned him the nickname of “Tops” because he ran his Army unit with a stem hand. Moses’ aggressive style transformed scared young boys into brave and confident men. He took upcoming Officers and made them into true leaders able to operate on the world’s stage. Over the years, he became known for his exceptional leadership and mentoring skills and his effectiveness as a leader. Even his Commanding Officers would solicit his recommendations before making strategic decisions.

Continuing to seize upon every available opportunity for advancement, in 1967, Moses transitioned to the U. S. Secret Service, a department within the U. S. Department of the Treasury, where he served on the Presidential Details for five presidents: Nixon, Carter, Ford, Reagan and Bush. During his career with the U. S. Secret Service, he attended numerous training academies and training opportunities, including the Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Glynco, GA, the U. S. Secret Service Special Agent Training Center in Beltsville, MD, extensive firearms training and defensive driving techniques. In each training, Moses also specialized in shooting, and he became an expert in the use of assault weapons. He was at the top of each class for marksmanship. He qualified as a Marksman with the .38 Caliber Revolver and the Uzi.

Moses Kelly traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad with the Presidents he served, as well as with some of the most powerful and recognized leaders in the free world, carrying the burden and responsibility of protecting them and keeping them safe and out of harm’s way.

Throughout his career with the U. S. Secret Service, Moses made advance trips to numerous countries to prepare for Presidential trips or trips for other high-ranking government officials traveling outside the U. S. His advance trips served to assess the need for manpower, equipment, hospitals and evacuation routes for emergencies, fire and rescue and coordinating with other public service personnel in gathering intelligence information, establishing security checkpoints, conducting required background checks and limiting the secured areas. Moses’s first Administrative and Protective Presidential Detail was providing protection to President Nixon. During this assignment, he served at the La Casa Pacifica, the President’s Western White House in San Clemente, California from 1969 to 1974.

Returning to the Washington, D. C., he served on special details for President Ford from 1974 to 1977 and for President Carter from 1977 to 1981. From 1981 to 1989, he was assigned to former President Reagan’s western White House, Reagan’s Ranch, also known as the Rancho del Cielo or “Heaven’s Ranch” atop the Santa Ynez mountain range in Santa Barbara, California. During President Reagan’s two terms of office, he and Eleanor relocated to Santa Barbara, California. At the end of President Reagan’s term in office in 1989, Moses returned to the Washington, D. C., area and joined the Presidential Detail for President George H. W. Bush. He served most of his time at the President’s family seaside estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This was his last protective presidential detail with the Secret Service.

On April 30, 1990, Moses retired from the U. S. Secret Service after serving 23 years and six months, for a total of 45 years of dedicated career service to his country. Throughout his career with the U. S. Secret Service, he participated in numerous protective details and provided protection not only to Presidents and Vice Presidents and their families, but also to presidential candidates, foreign dignitaries and visiting heads of state. He worked on numerous investigative assignments and traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad with the Presidents he served, as well as with some of the most powerful and recognized leaders in the free world, carrying the burden and responsibility of protecting them and keeping them safe and out of harm’s way.

After retiring, he and Eleanor returned to Blythewood to enjoy their retirement years. Once settled in Blythewood, Moses joined the Good Aim Baptist Church and was baptized. Eventually, he began teaching the Adult Sunday School class and was elected as a Church Trustee. In 2014, he was chosen, along with other WWII veterans to participate in one of many Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. He was selected as “Man of the Year” by the Good Aim Missionary Baptist Church in 2016. He was also a very proud member of the 24th Infantry Association, the Buffalo Soldiers Regimen

Moses had the rare honor and excitement of serving at the highest level of government with distinction in two separate careers, during which he received numerous awards. The family’s scrapbooks of memories are filled with citations, letters, pictures and personal notes of thanks from Presidents, Heads of State and ordinary folks who came to know him during his life’s journey.

Moses was full of life and laughter, and loved sharing the stories of his adventures.  Friends and family said he had a way of capturing his audience, as every great storyteller does, with nail-biting descriptions from his life of excitement, narrow escapes, monumental victories and unbelievable defiance. By the end of the story, his loved ones said, you were either in tears from laughter or in disbelief at his audacity and fearlessness. One of his favorite ways to end a story was to say, “It’s been a good ride and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”

We salute the man, the husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law and friend, and are so proud that he became an outstanding example of what happens when you are determined to change your life to change your future. Moses said that “It is never about how many degrees you have or what school you attended, or how much money you have in the bank or the kind of car you drive, but rather it is all about how well you have performed and succeeded in your responsibilities.” He said that it is not about the destination, but it is about the journey and what a wonderful and incredible journey it has been for him. To those whose lives he has touched, his memory will forever be in their spirit and his wisdom immersed in their souls.