These sisters were children in the Pentagon day care center on September 11. Now they are in the military.
Norman J. “Dusty” Kleiss was a dive bomber pilot in the United States Navy during World War II. He fought in the Battle of Midway where he was the only dive bomber pilot to strike two Japanese aircraft carriers and a cruiser.
Kleiss was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy Cross. He served in the Navy until his retirement as a captain. He lived to be 100 years old and is the last surviving dive bomber pilot of the Battle of Midway.
Small beginnings and early career
Dusty Kleiss was born in Coffeyville, Kansas on March 7, 1916. In his diary, he writes that he learned to be a sniper with a BB rifle before he could ride a bicycle. He worked as an apprentice toolmaker while awaiting his appointment to the US Naval Academy.
From an early age he learned the importance of air power. At the age of 15, he joined the 114th Cavalry of the Kansas National Guard. During an exercise at Fort Riley, KS, his unit was wiped out when the opposing force used a plane to “strafe” his unit which did not have a clean plane.
In June 1938 he graduated from Annapolis. At that time, the Navy needed new ensigns to serve in the fleet for two years before attending flight school. The reasoning was that airmen should know the strengths and limitations of the surface fleet.
Thus, Dusty Kleiss served on the cruiser USS Vincennes and the destroyers USS Goff and USS Yarnall.
At the end of the two years, Dusty traveled to Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida for flight training. After 11 months of flight training, he obtained his wings on April 27, 1941. One of the most important lessons he learned was the art of aerial combat, which would serve him much later in battle. aerial over Midway.
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After graduating from Pensacola, Dusty Kleiss was assigned to Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6), the scout bomber squadron assigned to the USS Enterprise (CV-6). Kleiss and the other Scouting Six pilots flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, a two-seater with a rear-facing machine gunner at the rear.
The Enterprise headed for Hawaii. There the men began to seriously train for the war that everyone knew was coming. Kleiss earned her nickname just a month later after one of her landings caused an excessive amount of dust.
Dusty Kleiss’ first engagement
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, their primary targets, the American aircraft carriers, were not in port. However, the carrier reconnaissance squadrons engaged with Japanese planes off the coast of Hawaii and lost six pilots and gunners in the battle. On December 8, Dusty Kleiss was shot by nervous American gunners over Pearl Harbor who mistook his SBD for a Japanese plane.
Kleiss saw his first action during the Battle of the Marshall Islands (February 1, 1942), where he attacked the Japanese base at Kwajalein Atoll. During the Enterprise plane airstrike, Kleiss’s Dauntless SDB dropped its wing incendiary bombs on a plane parked at Roi Airfield, then dropped its 500-pound bomb on the Katori light cruiser. During a second strike on the Japanese base on Taroa Island, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and his rear gunner John W. Snowden was injured in the buttocks.
Kleiss also participated in the air raids at the Battle of Wake Island on February 24, 1942, attacking the Japanese who had captured the island from the US Marines in the early weeks of the war.
Upon returning to Pearl Harbor, Kleiss received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his attack on Kwajalein Atoll.
The Battle of Midway and Dusty Kleiss Against the Rising Sun
During the Battle of Midway, the United States had partly broken the Japanese Navy’s JN-25b code and had a good idea of Japanese plans. It allowed the Americans to prepare. As a result, the US carrier force, consisting of the Enterprise, Hornet, and patched Yorktown carriers, was already on track to meet the Japanese northeast of Midway.
But confusion and early disaster set the stage for a landslide American victory. The Hornet’s torpedo squadrons attacked without fighter protection and were all shot down. The torpedo attack that followed by the former Enterprise Devastator torpedo bombers, with just six fighters as cover, was also blasted to pieces.
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However, these two uncoordinated attacks took all Japanese air coverage away from Japanese air carriers who were left without an aerial umbrella. It was then that 32 Enterprise dive bombers, led by Lt. Commander Wade McCluskey, appeared above our heads. They focused on the forward aircraft carrier the Kaga. Plunging 20,000 feet, they struck Japanese aircraft carriers, which found themselves without combat protection.
Japanese aircraft carriers had their decks filled with bombs and prepared to attack the American fleet. Dusty Kleiss was the second driver to score a direct hit on the Kaga. He and his gunner Snowden lined up with the Kaga and used the red rising sun on the flight deck as a target. Its incendiary bombs hit planes parked on the flight deck. His 500-pound bomb hit the edge of the red circle and went four decks lower before detonating, hitting long-lance torpedoes. Kleiss nearly crashed into the ocean, barely emerging from a dive as the Kaga erupted into a fiery hell. A Japanese Zero immediately got on his tail, but tail gunner John Snowden shot him down.
Years later, Kleiss was invited to write an article about the battle. His excellent article is included in the 2012 Midway Special Edition of The newspaper, the quarterly publication of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
“Wade McClusky fluttered his wings and, in our Scouting Six planes, we followed him on a dive to Kaga, the nearest aircraft carrier. It was the ideal situation for the dive bombing: no zeros, no antiaircraft fire. McClusky and our Scouting Six dive bombers attacked Kaga. Bombing Six planes attacked Akagi. Earl Gallaher scored the first hit on Kaga. I saw his 500-pound bomb explode on the first plane to take off. It was the only plane on the Kaga flight deck. His firebombs also hit the gas tanks nearby. Immediately, the stern part of the ship was engulfed in a huge mass of flames. I scored the next move. My 500-pound bomb and two 100-pound arsonists landed on the back edge of the large red circle on Kaga’s bow. The bombs set fire to the planes tightly parked under the bridge, filled with gasoline; a huge fire broke out. (Note: my bombs hit the target at 240 knots and exploded 1 / 100th of a second later!)
A Zero came very quickly for us. I gave my gunner John Snowden a good angle, and in two seconds, no more Zero! I passed a lot of ships firing AA shots at me, so I changed course and altitude every second. I finally made a half circle, heading towards Midway. I looked back and saw three aircraft carriers in flames: many bombs from Scouting Six and Bombing Six had hit Kaga; three Bombing Six bombs hit Akagi, and the Yorktown dive bombers set Soryu on fire. Only Hiryu, 20 miles away, was not injured.
Dusty Kleiss and Snowden barely made it back to Enterprise as their fuel was nearly depleted. They quickly ate a sandwich, had a cup of coffee, and took a nap before setting off again in search of Hiryu, the last Japanese porter.
The mission, commanded by Lt. Earl Gallagher, spotted the Hiryu performing evasive maneuvers. But Kleiss knew that as a dive bomber, the key is not where a ship is, but where it is going. Again, he lined up with the ship’s red circle, and in another steep dive, scored a direct hit.
“It was a bonfire that could be seen 10 miles away.” Despite having scored direct hits on two Japanese aircraft carriers, Dusty Kleiss was not yet finished.
On June 5, they missed the Japanese fleet, but on June 6, Kleiss and the Enterprise dive bombers attacked the Japanese cruiser Mikuma. Kleiss’ bombs were once again in place and struck near Mikuma’s fireplace. The Mikuna was a wreck, devastated from bow to stern by multiple bombs that she quickly sank.
Kleiss was the only pilot to score three direct hits with a dive bomber during the Battle of Midway. For his actions during the battle, Kleiss was awarded the Navy Cross in November 1942.
It was his last combat mission. He was returned to the United States to be an instructor assigned to an Advanced Carrier Training Group (ACTG) squadron stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. He then married his longtime girlfriend Eunice Marie “Jean” Mochon in Las Vegas and transferred to the training squadron at Cecil Field, Florida.
The couple remained devoted to each other until Eunice’s death in 2006. “She was three times smarter than me, for sure,” Dusty said in an interview with CNN.
Dusty’s post-war years
After attending the Naval Postgraduate School for Aircraft Design, he worked on improving aircraft design features, aircraft carrier catapult designs. He retired from the Navy on April 1, 1962, with the rank of captain.
He worked as an engineer at the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center, West Virginia for a few years before deciding to teach math, physics, and chemistry at Berkeley Springs High School for 10 years. In 1987, he and his wife retired and moved to Air Force Village, a retirement community located near Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Kleiss was frequently invited to be a speaker or guest of honor at receptions relating to the Battle of Midway. Still, he wasn’t comfortable being called a hero. He worked on his memoirs Never Call Me A Hero: A legendary dive bomber pilot remembers the Battle of Midway. It was released after his death in 2017.
An excellent video interview with Kleiss can be seen here:
Dusty Kleiss lived in San Antonio until his death on April 22, 2016, shortly after his 100th birthday. He is buried alongside his wife at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
This article originally appeared on SOFREP. To follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.