WSC varsity track team 1940-41. Jack Kelleher, bottom row, far left. Photo courtesy of WSU Athletics.
Stories that Live Forever
Editor’s Note: This article is the 12th installment in a series titled “Stories that Live Forever.” The series, written by Jason Krump, WSU Athletics, originated in 2007 to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the names listed on the Washington State University Veterans Memorial on the WSU campus.
Beginning Veterans Day 2008, the scope of the series was expanded to include Washington State student-athletes who have served, or are serving, the United States military — many who have paid the ultimate price to protect our nation and its freedom. Click the following link to
access the entire
Stories that Live Forever series.
At its surface, the legacy an athlete receives in the history books of Washington State Athletics is dictated by how they are represented in the school’s records book.
But dig deeper in the school’s history books and names are revealed of athletes who did not have an opportunity to stake their claim to the records book, as fate had other plans.
Jack Kelleher is one of those athletes.
A three-sport star in football, basketball, and track at Ellensburg High School, Kelleher arrived at Washington State College after graduating from Ellensburg High School in 1939.
A business administration major at WSC, Kelleher briefly saw time with Jack Friel’s 1941 national runner-up basketball team, playing in four games.
But it was on the track he began to make a name for himself.
Relay and 440 dash
As a sophomore in 1941, Kelleher earned a spot on the prestigious 4×400 relay team and competed in the 440-yard dash.
During an April meet vs. Idaho, Kelleher won the 440 with a time of 50.6 seconds and ran the third leg of the mile relay team that clocked a time of 3:26.3. Against rival Washington, he narrowly missed out on a victory in the 440.
In May, at the Pacific Coast Conference Northern Division meet, Kelleher helped the Cougars to their ninth straight Northern Division Track Championship. He ran the opening leg of the mile relay team that turned in a blistering time of 3:17.9 to defeat Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State College.
Kelleher’s performance and contributions to the team did not go unnoticed. The Chinook Yearbook stated of Kelleher: “This big Irishman powerhoused his way down the track many times to out-sprint opponents in the quarter-mile.”
Coach Jack Weiershauser said the Ellensburg native was “one of the finest prospects on the team.”
World War II
With his junior and senior years ahead of him, prospects for Kelleher looked bright.
Then World War II arrived.
In March 1942, on the brink of his junior season, Kelleher left school to join the military.
Six days after D-Day
According to the Ellensburg Daily Record, Kelleher was assigned to an infantry unit and sent to Europe in May 1944. He joined the campaign in Europe shortly after D-Day, June 6. While in France, he was wounded on July 12.
Kelleher’s parents received word of their son’s injury by Jack himself, from a letter by him addressed from an English hospital. The letter was received by the parents before they received the official casualty telegram from the war department.
Returns to action after wound
Kelleher recovered from his wound and soon returned to action.
According to a report in the Ellensburg Daily Record, Kelleher was engaged in an assault of Germany’s Siegfried Line when he was wounded once again on Sept. 20.
This wound was much more serious.
The Oct. 7, 1944 Ellensburg Daily Record reported the news: “Pfc. Jack Kelleher, who was slightly wounded three months ago, has been seriously wounded in France, according to a war department telegram received today by his parents.”
Ominously, the article stated: “It is understood that the war department uses the terms “slightly injured” and “seriously wounded” in casualty telegrams and the latter covers a wide range of types of wounds.”
Two days later the Daily Record reported: “The name of Pfc. Jack Kelleher was added to the list of Ellensburg World War II dead. The War Department notified his parents this morning that their son died Sept. 23 of wounds received in France, Sept. 20.”
Jack Kelleher’s name can now be found (second from the bottom) on the WSU Veterans Memorial.
Among 241 names
Kelleher was 22 years old when he died.
While Jack Kelleher’s name does not appear in the Washington State records book, his name holds a prominent place in the Washington State history books, as it is among the 241 etched on the World War II section of the WSU Veterans Memorial.