The Last Surviving American Bomber Pilot of the Battle Of Midway

By Faye Higbee

The last surviving  bomber pilot from the Battle of Midway is Norman “Dusty” Kleiss. At 99 years young, he has stories to share. Like so many WWII veterans, he is aging, and those stories my be lost forever if they are not told.

Battle of Midway

Norman J “Dusty” Kleiss – photo taken by Andrew Buckley in 2011

Preserving the stories of a “decisive battle”

Norman was an SBD Dauntless pilot in Scouting Squadron 6 aboard the USS Enterprise. The bombers searched for hours to find the Japanese fleet that was headed toward Midway. “Dusty” and his bombers targeted two Japanese aircraft carriers first  – the Kaga, and the Hiryu.

WTKR shared a story from CNN:

First the U.S. torpedo pilots went on suicide-like missions, up against overwhelming Japanese firepower. Shortly after, Dusty’s Dauntless Douglas dive bombers arrived on the scene. The unsuspecting Japanese carriers were changing bombs below deck. They were caught completely unaware.

Kleiss and his pilots targeted the Kaga first. The first few dive bombers missed. Kleiss was the second to hit.

He knew where to place the bombs. “I went up to 20,000 feet, and I looked at the red big circle,” he said. The first 500-pound bomb set numerous airplanes on fire. His main bomb went four decks below, hitting long lance torpedos. Kleiss barely missed the ocean pulling out of a dive as the Kaga erupted into an inferno. A Japanese Zero immediately challenged him, but tail gunner John Snowden shot it down.

They barely made it back to the Enterprise. Incredible as it sounds, Kleiss said he followed his flight with a sandwich and coffee, then a brief nap while planes roared overhead. Then he took off for an attack on another Japanese carrier, the Hiryu. That ship was using evasive maneuvers. But what’s important as a dive bomber, Kleiss said, is to figure out not where a ship is, but where it’s going. Again he looked for the red circle on the ship, zoomed down and scored a direct hit.

“It was a bonfire that could be seen 10 miles away.”

By the time the battle of Midway was over, the Japanese had lost 4 carriers, the United States only one (Yorktown).  That battle was Dusty’s last mission.

Saving America

He earned the rank of Captain during his service. In 1942, Dusty married his girlfriend Jean in Las Vegas. They were married for a phenomenal 64 years until she passed away in 2006.  Like many of the WWII veterans I have had the honor to know, this man was one of the “Greatest Generation” who lived up to the name.

He says does not hate the Japanese, he just did his job. And that job was to preserve the nation… a job he accomplished well.

“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.”  Norman Kleiss

MySanAntonio  described his contribution to the war effort like this:

“The battle that some list among the 20 most decisive in world history began a week after Kleiss — then a lieutenant junior grade — seven other officers and Mess Attendant 1st Class Doris “Dorie” Miller were saluted for heroism by Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz.

Miller received the Navy Cross for moving his captain to safety and manning a machine gun during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kleiss earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for action nearly two months later in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.”

Thank you, Dusty, for your service.