|Born||7 Mar 1916|
|Died||22 Apr 2016|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseNorman Jack Kleiss was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, United States to John Louis Kleiss and Lulu Dunham Kleiss in Mar 1916. His early affinity to working with tools landed him an apprenticeship as a toolmaker. In 1931, he joined the Kansas National Guard, and he was assigned to 114th Cavalry Regiment. Between 1934 and Jun 1938, he studied at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, United States. As a midshipman, he served aboard USS Arkansas, followed by assignment aboard USS Vincennes, USS Goff, and USS Yarnall between Jun 1938 and Apr 1940. After passing physical and psychological tests at Norfolk, Virginia, United States, he was transferred to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, United States for flight training, which was completed in Apr 1941. He was assigned to fly SBD Dauntless dive bombers as a member of Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6), which operated off of carrier USS Enterprise. In May 1941, he departed Florida for Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii aboard USS Enterprise. Later in the same month, he mistakenly thought he had permission to land at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa when the runway was actually blocked by several stationary US Marine Corps aircraft. He made a safe landing by swerving off the runway, kicking up a large cloud of dust. He was nicknamed "Dusty" after this incident after the surprised air traffic controller exclaimed "Unknown dust cloud, who the hell are you?" over the radio. In Jun 1941, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant junior grade.
ww2dbaseWhen the Japanese Navy raided Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941, Kleiss flew patrols over his carrier task force, but did not encounter Japanese aircraft. He would not see combat until 1 Feb 1942 during a raid on the Japanese base at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands; he claimed one Japanese aircraft destroyed on the ground. Later that month, he participated in the raid of Wake Island, followed by a raid of Minami-Tori-Shima (known as "Marcus Island" to westerners) in early Mar 1942. For his participation of these early raids against Japanese garrisons, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from Admiral Chester Nimitz in May 1942. He next saw action during the Battle of Midway of Jun 1942, during which he flew with Lieutenant Commander C. Wade McClusky and stumbled upon the main body of the Japanese fleet in the morning of the first day of the battle. As his squadron dove on the carriers, Kleiss was the second pilot to score on a Japanese ship, hitting carrier Kaga in the forward section of the flight deck with a 500-pound bomb and two smaller wing-mounted bombs. In the afternoon, he flew another mission, this time under Lieutenant W. Earl Gallaher; this patrol located Japanese carrier Hiryu, and Kleiss scored a hit on the bow. Both Kaga and Hiryu would sink during the Battle of Midway. On 6 Jun, he scored three hits on the cruiser Mikuma and contributed to the cruiser's loss. For his accomplishments during the Battle of Midway, he was later awarded the Navy Cross in Nov 1942. After the Battle of Midway, he was transferred back to the United States. He married Eunice Marie "Jean" Mochon in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. He then became an instructor assigned to an Advanced Carrier Training Group (ACTG) squadron stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. In the fall of 1942, he transferred to the ACTG squadron assigned to Cecil Field, Florida. In Oct 1943, he resigned his position as instructor to accept a position at the Naval Academy's Postgraduate School, where he dove into the field of aircraft design.
ww2dbaseAfter WW2, Kleiss served as Assistant Head of Structures Branch, Bureau of Aeronautics, under command of Rear Admiral Melville Pride. In May 1947, upon Pride's retirement, he took over the Structures Branch. In May 1949, he became the Bureau of Aeronautics representative at the Lockheed Corporation in Burbank, California, United States; in this role, he supervised the US Navy's aircraft inspectors, engineers, and test pilots stationed on the Lockheed site. In Jun 1952, he was reassigned to the staff of Commander, Air Force, Atlantic (COMAIRLANT), serving under Rear Admiral Seldon B. Spangler. Between 1955 and 1958, he served as Director of the Aircraft Structures Laboratory at the Naval Air Material Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Between 1958 and 1961, he served as the Director of Catapults and Arresting Gear, Ship Installation Division, in Washington, DC, United States. Between 1961 and his retirement in Apr 1962, he was an administrative officer at the Office of Naval Materiel. He retired at the rank of captain. In the civilian sector, he worked at Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center, West Virginia, United States until 1965, worked as a part-time surveyor, and then worked as a high school teacher at Berkeley Springs High School in West Virginia. In 1997, he and his wife moved to the Air Force Village retirement community in San Antonio, Texas, United States. In 2007, he met with Kaname Harada, a Japanese fighter ace who had flown against him during the Battle of Midway. His wife passed away in 2006. He passed away in Apr 2016 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. His memoir, titled Never Call Me a Hero, was published posthumously on 23 May 2017.
Last Major Revision: Mar 2020
Jack Kleiss Interactive Map
Jack Kleiss Timeline
|7 Mar 1916||Jack Kleiss was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, United States.|
|27 Apr 1941||Jack Kleiss completed flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, United States.|
|27 May 1941||Jack Kleiss earned the nickname "Dusty" after making an unauthorized landing at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa on the island of Oahu, US Territory of Hawaii, stirring up a giant cloud of red dust.|
|1 Feb 1942||Jack Kleiss saw combat for the first time, destroying a parked aircraft at Roi Airfield on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands during the first strike. During the second strike, his SBD Dauntless aircraft was hit by Japanese machine gun fire, wounding his gunner Radioman 3rd Class John Snowden in the buttocks.|
|24 Feb 1942||Jack Kleiss, flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, participated in the raid of Wake Island.|
|4 Mar 1942||Jack Kleiss, flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, participated in the raid of Minami-Tori-Shima ("Marcus Island").|
|27 May 1942||Jack Kleiss was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal by Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard USS Enterprise.|
|4 Jun 1942||Jack Kleiss, flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, scored bomb hits on Japanese carriers Kaga and Hiryu off Midway Atoll.|
|5 Jun 1942||Jack Kleiss, flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, dropped bombs on Japanese destroyer Tanikaze off Midway Atoll, but the bomb missed.|
|6 Jun 1942||Jack Kleiss, flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, scored three hits on Japanese cruiser Mikuma off Midway Atoll.|
|1 Apr 1962||Jack Kleiss retired from naval service at the rank of captain.|
|7 Mar 2016||Jack Kleiss received a congratulatory telephone call from former US President George H. W. Bush for his 100th birthday.|
|22 Apr 2016||Jack Kleiss passed away in San Antonio, Texas, United States.|
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