formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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June, 2008 WWII Hero speaks at Battle of Midway anniversary luncheon

The Liberty Gazette
June, 2008

WWII Hero Speaks at Battle of Midway Anniversary Luncheon
Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Celebrating the 66th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the Naval Order of the United States Texas Commandery hosted a luncheon featuring special guest speaker, Captain N. Jack (“Dusty”) Kleiss Sr., now 90 years young and sharp as a tack.

Armed with slides of maps and photos, Captain Kleiss spoke of his personal experience of the four days of battle, June 4-7, 1942, and the events that led to it. The audience was treated to blow-by-blow accounts from this man’s point of view, from the number of minutes it took to destroy an enemy ship to the concern for fuel to make it back to safe harbor.

As a member of the Scouting Squadron aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Kleiss piloted an Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber for the U.S. Navy, and was personally responsible for a significant part in the victory at Midway, bombing four Japanese ships including the carriers Akagi and Kaga.

Dusty Kleiss is a most humble man with a sense of humor and brought to light this personal experience of an important time in U.S. history.

Fighter pilot training began in the F4B4, which Kleiss says, “would go upside down okay, but then the engine would quit. If you did a nosedive though, sometimes it would start back up again. So we practiced that over the swamps.”

The SBD-2’s they flew in battle were good to 13 G’s and the men “had to learn all the stuff in the tech book to be able to do it all blindfolded,” Kleiss recalled. “We navigated like Columbus, using a slide rule to figure the distance and location to find a moving ship.” In formation flying they turned on their lights to get in formation and then cut them off and looked for the exhaust of each other’s planes to help keep in line. “We used flashlights for signal communications because the Japanese were very good at intercepting our radios.”

Landing area on the USS Enterprise was 400’x90’. “We showed them we could land it in 15 seconds. There were six wires, but you didn’t hit the sixth one because it cuts off the tires, the prop hits it, and you end up in the Chief’s quarters.”

Captain Kleiss says they knew aboard the Enterprise that the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming, crediting the “God-given storm for keeping us out of there.” A day late enroute to Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise escaped the attack, enabling it to participate in the Battle of Midway six months later.

Prior to the attack on Midway Island, the Big-E engaged in battle around the Eastern Solomon Islands and let herself be seen there as if she were retreating to Australia and then returned to Pearl Harbor and from there was dispatched to a location a couple hundred miles northeast of Midway Island.

“The morning of Midway they served us steak and eggs.” Pause. “We knew it was going to be a rough day. We’d had steak and eggs before.” In a ready state, fighter pilots aboard the USS Enterprise waited and waited. Once they finally launched, they loitered on station for about 40 minutes waiting to join up with aircraft from the USS Yorktown. Then a Morse code message arrived via search light: “Proceed independently.” The Yorktown pilots would eventually arrive and be credited with the sinking of the Japanese carrier the Soryu.

Fellow pilot, Earl Gallagher, taught the others how to hit a moving target within a small space, and Dusty credits him for making others successful. Speaking of the SBD he flew in the battle, Dusty remarked, “That airplane could dive, it was a good plane; it was tough. It could take a lot of hits – I know, because I brought one back they had to haul off.”

Dusty Kleiss is one of our nation’s heroes, his heroism matched only by his humility. Having arrived early to an area where the enemy was suspected to be, Dusty described hitting one of the targets. “I was at 20,000 feet and saw this cruiser down there, and that’s what it looked like, a cruiser, and, well,” he shrugged, “I bombed it.” Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Dusty simply spoke of the honor as, “That’s the kind of thing they did back in that day.”

When handed a plaque in appreciation for speaking to the group, this World War II hero quietly, humbly replied, “Thanks. I don’t deserve it.”

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