Midway Dive Bomber Pilot Turns 100 Years Old

Posted on April 12th, 2016 by:

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Midway Dive Bomber Pilot Turns 100 Years Old:

Norman Jack “Dusty” Kleiss celebrated his 100th birthday this year amid friends and family and even received a special phone call from the President who thanked him for his service. Beyond turning 100 years old, Dusty Kleiss has another achievement he can be proud of, he is the last surviving dive bomber pilot to fly at the Battle of Midway.

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SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers in Flight

Originally from Coffeyville, Kansas, Kleiss was 26 years old during The Battle of Midway. On June 4th, 1942, he was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. At 7:30am he took off in his SBD Dauntless dive bomber loaded with one 500 and two 100 lbs. bombs as part of Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6). Once airborne, his squadron combined with SBD’s of Enterprise’s Bombing Six (VB-6) forming a group of 32 dive bombers. The group climbed to 20,000 feet, the weather was clear with scattered cumulus clouds below them at 1,500 to 2,500 feet.

Around 10:30am, 150 miles Northwest of Midway Island, the group spotted a Japanese force of four aircraft carriers, several

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“Dusty” Kleiss suited up for a mission

battleships or heavy cruisers, and many destroyers, though a hole in the clouds Kleiss saw the red rising sun insignia of the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga. The Dauntless’ met little opposition from enemy anti-aircraft fire and fighters which were focused on attacking the low flying American torpedo planes. Kleiss dove on the Kaga, aiming for the red sun painted on her deck. He pulled out of his dive at the last minute only a few dozen feet above the water. Looking behind him, he saw Kaga was a mass of fire. His main 500 lbs. bomb had penetrated four decks below the Kaga’s flight deck before exploding. In all, the American dive bombers hit Kaga with one 1000 lbs. bomb and a least three 500 lbs. bombs.

At sea level, the group came under attack, losing eight airplanes. Kleiss and the other surviving planes returned to Enterprise, refueled and rearmed and were launched again, this time against the aircraft carrier Hiryu. This mission was made up of twenty four SBD’s, six from VS-6, four from VB-6 and fourteen from the USS Yorktown’s VB-3. The dive bomber pilots climbed to 13,000 feet and sighted their target at 16:45 hours. They found one carrier, a battleship a cruiser and three or four destroyers. The large ships were spread out, each with a protecting destroyer. The planes flew to 19,000 feet for their attack, circling in the sun so the enemy could not see them. At 19:05 hours the Americans dove on the Japanese. VS-6 went first, but the Hiryu did a 180° turn avoiding the bombs from the first two planes.  Dusty dove again, aiming for the red sun on the ship’s deck and scored another hit. The Hiryu became a ball of fire after four direct hits by American bombs. Further Dauntless’ went after other ships because more attacks on the Hiryu were deemed unnecessary. After the attack, the Hiryu remained afloat but the fires on board could not be controlled and she was abandoned after suffering large explosions later that night.

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The Japanese Aircraft Carrier Kaga

The Battle of Midway was the turning point in the Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost four of its irreplaceable fleet carriers and from now on fought a defensive war against American military.

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“Dusty” Kleiss holds a picture of his SBD Dauntless

Dusty Kleiss continued his career with the US Navy, serving more than 20 years. After the war, his family used to take him on roller coasters but he fell asleep on them, finding them boring after diving down on Japanese carriers from 20,000 feet.

When asked about the key to his longevity, his nephew said “I’ve always known him to be happy, genuinely happy, and have great faith, maybe that’s the key to longevity.”

Kleiss had this to say about his life: “Regardless of anything that happened to me, God would give me enough strength if I worked hard enough, long enough, that I would be able to accomplish something to preserve the United States of America.”

Happy 100th Mr. Kleiss!

*Norman  Jack”Dusty” Kleiss passed away on April 22, 2016

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For More Reading on The Battle of Midway Check Out:

The Battle of Midway

2 thoughts on “Midway Dive Bomber Pilot Turns 100 Years Old

  • Ping Jockey says:

    I’ve often thought that our victory at Midway was fairly ‘earned’ because it was ‘bought’ with the blood of the brave crews that manned those torpedo planes. If it hadn’t been for their actions, the Japanese CAPs would not have been down at wave top height instead of at altitudes where they could have jumped on the dive bombers — and history as we know it would have been changed.
    May God shine His Loving Face upon them and grant them peace. And may He bless all those who fought and died in that war that maintained our freedoms that we enjoy.
    — An STG1(SW), USN (Ret.)

    1. admin says:

      Great point! You’re right, it wasn’t for the sacrifice of the Devastator torpedo crews who knows how the battle would have ended. The loss figures I have seen are 15 out of 15 Torpedo planes shot down from Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) of the USS Hornet, 10 out of 14 shot down from VT-6 of the USS Enterprise and 11 out of 12 shot down from VT-3 of the USS Yorktown.

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