Two American SBD’s fly over a Japanese ship, presumably Mikuma, during the Battle of Midway.
Mr. Norman Jack “Dusty” Kleiss had just celebrated his 100th birthday this past March 7th. Kleiss was the last surviving dive-bomber from the famed Battle of Midway, an important American naval victory over the Japanese which occurred from 4-6 June 1942. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, class of 1938, Kleiss served as the pilot of an SBD-2 Dauntless in Scouting Squadron SIX (VS-6) off USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6). Of the 32 SBDs that took off from ENTERPRISE on 4 June, 16 were from VS-6. Only half of them returned, with six crews being unaccounted for. Two other SBD crewmembers were later rescued safely. The next two days of the battle also saw the crews of VS-6 flying sorties against the Japanese carriers, and fortunately both days saw the return of all personnel and aircraft from those highly successful missions.
Before his heroic actions at Midway, Lt. (j.g.) Kleiss had also flown scouting missions at the battles of Kwajalein and Maleolap Atoll in the Marshall Islands, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross after scoring a direct hit on a Japanese light carrier on 1 February 1942. For helping to bomb the Japanese carriers Kaga and Hiryu, and thus stop the Japanese Imperial Navy cold during the Battle of Midway, Kleiss would be awarded the Navy Cross. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain.
Kleiss, typical of so many of America’s WWII veterans, once humbly replied when told he was a hero, “I’m anything but a hero….I was only doing what at the time was the proper thing to do.”
To view the citations for Kleiss’ Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross awards, visit:
The link above takes you to photos of some of the coolest Army Air Corps jackets worn by bomber crew personnel during the war. One that I found missing from this list however, and a personal favorite of mine, is the ‘Murder Inc.’ bomber jacket. The logo on the back of the leather jacket itself didn’t exactly grab your attention, but apparently the only one ever made for the crew was given to Kenneth Daniel Williams, ‘Murder Inc.’s’ bombardier. “Murder Incorporated,” or “Murder Inc.” as they were more famously known, was the name given to Mafia kingpins Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s gang of ruthless killers. Infamous for their violence, which included murder-for-hire, Murder Inc. kept a deadly roster of hit men on the payroll. There can be little doubt why such an infamous outfit would inspire a crew of young men participating in the violence of war and therefore would choose to name themselves after such a bloody band of outlaws. When Williams was asked if he wanted something drawn on his bomber jacket which incorporated their plane’s name, he simply responded, “Sure.” Lacking a sexy pinup girl or outlandish cartoon character, the jacket simply bears the name of the 351st Bomb Group’s plane, ‘Murder Inc,’ along with the Army Air Corps star symbol. But in this case, the meaning behind the demonically dark name bestowed upon the plane and crew was worth its weight in gold to the Nazis. When the crew of ‘Murder Inc.’ was shot down in 1944, they were captured and were quickly put to use for propaganda against the US. Strangely enough, the crew had not been shot down in ‘Murder Inc.,’ but another airplane. But that didn’t stop the Nazis from exclaiming that they finally had, in the flesh, the wild, homicidal Yankee gangsters that had bombed, burned, and murdered so many Germans. Williams, wearing the only jacket to sport the plane’s moniker, unwittingly delivered the enemy a propaganda gift. The consequence of an American bomber crew being portrayed as murderous gangsters resulted in the 8th Air Force ordering that all names for every new bomber had to be approved.