The hero of Midway remembered

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

By Gene Hays
MSgt, USMC (Ret)

Norman Jack “Dusty” Kleiss was born on March 7, 1916, in Coffeyville, Kansas. In 1934, Kleiss accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. He graduated in June 1938. From June 1938 to April 1940, Ensign Kleiss served on board three ships.

Later he reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight training. After eleven months and not a single crash, he earned his wings on April 27, 1941 and reported aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

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On May 8, Enterprise set sail for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and upon its arrival, Kleiss and the other pilots began training for war, practicing their navigation, gunnery, and dive bombing in the waters around Hawaii.

On June 4–6, 1942, Kleiss flew his aircraft in the Battle of Midway. On the morning of June 4, Kleiss accompanied thirty-two SBD dive bombers led by Enterprise’s air group commander, Lieutenant Commander C. Wade McClusky, on a search to find the Japanese carrier task force led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

After several hours of searching, McClusky’s group spotted a lone Japanese destroyer, the Arashi, and changed direction to follow it. In a few minutes, McClusky’s pilots caught sight of the main body of the Japanese fleet and they attacked the Japanese carrier Kaga. At least four pilots from Kleiss’s squadron and the accompanying squadron (Bombing Six) scored direct hits.

Dusty Kleiss was the second pilot to score a hit, putting his 500-pound bomb and his two wing-mounted bombs into the forward section of Kaga’s flight deck, right near the Rising Sun insignia. In five minutes, three United States dive bomber squadrons had mortally damaged three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers.

On the afternoon of June 4, Kleiss accompanied another dive bomber mission launched from USS Enterprise. The dive bombers located the fourth Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, and fatally crippled it. Again, Kleiss scored a direct hit on the bow, one of only four or five pilots to do so.

On June 6, Kleiss accompanied Enterprise’s dive bombers in a mission that helped sink the Japanese cruiser Mikuma. Kleiss was the only pilot to score three direct hits with a dive bomber plane during the Battle of Midway.

For his participation in the battle, Kleiss received the Navy Cross in November 1942. The Navy Cross is the second highest award of our country with only the Medal of Honor senior.

After the Battle of Midway, Kleiss was transferred to shore duty in the United States. After the war, Kleiss served in the Bureau of Aeronautics and other Navy billets, retiring on April 1, 1962, at the rank of captain.

In 1997, he and his wife moved to the Air Force Village, a retirement community located near Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

Kleiss lived there for the rest of his life. He died on April 22, 2016, and is buried alongside his wife at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.