The men (and women) of the Greatest Generation are leaving us, and before too much longer, none will remain. That’s why men such as Norman Kleiss should be celebrated for as long as we have them among us. A Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilot in the U.S. Navy, he is the last of his compatriots who served in that capacity during the Battle of Midway in World War II. In addition to that distinction, Kleiss just turned 100–another milestone in a remarkable life.
It’s incredible that this amazing American war hero still lives among us. With fuel running low, gunshots firing from below, Norman Jack “Dusty” Kleiss successfully bombed two Japanese aircraft carriers in a surprise attack — the start of what later became known as the Battle of Midway. In all, four Japanese carriers were destroyed and the course of the war in the Pacific was forever changed.
Kleiss celebrated his 100th birthday [this past] Saturday with around 60 friends and neighbors. He’s the last surviving American dive bomber [pilot] from that battle.
Like many men my age, I am fascinated by World War II stories. I couldn’t believe I was getting to meet this courageous man. Our interview was arranged through Kleiss’ youngest daughter, Jill, who flew in from California. We set up our cameras in the living room. Kleiss, with the help of a walker, came out of the bedroom singing a Navy drinking song.
He closed his eyes at times, recalling those historic events. I felt like closing my eyes, too — imagining the danger the pilots faced coming in alone in the face of ship guns and Japanese Zeros.
They call him Dusty.