Corporal William Kelly Downing, US Marine Corps, was born 10 October 1946 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Downing graduated from Okay High School in 1964 where he was a member of the Oklahoma All-State Baseball Team. “He had several Major League Baseball teams interested in his talents, but his country had other plans for him,” his brother Mark said. At age 19, Downing was drafted into the military. After Marine Corps boot camp at Camp Pendleton, California, he deployed to Vietnam in 1966.
A year later on 3 May 1967, Downing, a Fire Team Leader in 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, Third Marines, was engaged in a desperate battle defending a hill complex south of Hill 881 near Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. Downing and 30 fellow Marines did not survive.
For his gallant actions that day, Corporal Downing was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal. His citation reads in part: “Corporal Downing was ordered to move his fire team into the Second Platoon's sector. He skillfully and unhesitatingly maneuvered his men into the area of the enemy's deepest penetration controlling their fire power so that the enemy forward movement was halted. Although wounded in the leg during the initial contact, he continued to direct the fire and movement of his fire team with perception and without regard for his own personal safety, gaining fire superiority and forcing the enemy to withdraw. Refusing medical assistance, he ordered the corpsman to treat others around him while he provided covering fire…Having ensured that the last wounded Marine was evacuated, he remained firing from his position. His body was found later with six of the enemy dead around his position. His daring devotion to duty and his selfless concern for his fellow Marines were an inspiration to all…His heroic initiative and courageous actions upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”
Since 1967 Downing’s life and service to his country have been honored by his community and the state of Oklahoma. The high school baseball field in Okay is named Kelly Downing Field. In 2008 a stretch of highway 251A which runs through Okay was named Kelly Downing Memorial Highway. Former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry issued a citation to Downing’s family extending Oklahoma’s gratitude for his service.