Al­len­town air­man who flew over D-Day, Bulge dies

Dec­o­rated WWII flyer lived ‘good, long, hon­or­able life’

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Scott and Daniel Pa­trick Shee­han

Nathan Kline, who sur­vived scores of mis­sions in a bomber dur­ing World War II, took part in some of that con­flict’s biggest bat­tles and came home to build a dis­tin­guished and happy civil­ian life, died Mon­day at Le­high Val­ley Hospi­tal.

The Al­len­town res­i­dent was 95 and in good health un­til re­cently, said his son, Brian Kline. He died of heart fail­ure.

Fam­ily and friends said Kline’s legacy is in in­spir­ing oth­ers as a vet­eran who par­tic­i­pated in the D-Day in­va­sion and the Bat­tle of the Bulge, a bom­bardier/nav­i­ga­tor who flew 65 mis­sions over Europe, a dec­o­rated U.S. Air Force ma­jor, a lo­cal busi­ness owner who cared about his cus­tomers and an ac­tive com­mu­nity mem­ber who served on the boards of many or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Kline was among the veter­ans pro­filed in The Morn­ing Call’s “War Sto­ries” se­ries, an oral his­tory of com­bat told by the sol­diers, sailors and air­men. In 2009, he re­counted the hours lead­ing up to D-Day, the Al­lied in­va­sion of France that marked the be­gin­ning of the end for Hitler’s Third Re­ich.

“We were re­stricted to our base for 48 hours prior to D-Day,” Kline re­called. “I saw them paint­ing the planes with huge black-and-white stripes. We didn’t know what was go­ing on. It turns out they were go­ing to have a cou­ple thou­sand planes up in the air at the same time, and they wanted to be able to dis­tin­guish them from the en­emy.

“On June 6, we were called to a brief­ing at 3 o’clock in the morn­ing. It was maybe a quar­ter­mile from our bar­racks, and we got there on bi­cy­cles in the twi­light.

“I can’t re­mem­ber our squadron com­man­der’s ex­act words, but they were some­thing like, ‘This is the day.’”

The 1942 Al­len­town High School grad­u­ate raised two chil­dren with wife Rae Kline, who died in 1997.

The cou­ple’s chil­dren, Brian and Jan­ice, grew up work­ing in their fa­ther’s auto sup­ply store when not in school. Brian swept floors, stocked shelves and took cus­tomer or­ders, while Jan­ice mailed out thank-you let­ters to cus­tomers and their mother did the book­keep­ing.

A per­sonal fit­ness trainer, Brian Kline of Katy, Texas, still power-lifts at age 69, hav­ing com­peted in 127 meets since 1973 and bro­ken 18 world records, 25 Amer­i­can records and over 50 state records. Brian broke these records af­ter un­der­go­ing a 1993 quadru­ple by­pass heart surgery per­formed by the same sur­geon who did sim­i­lar pro­ce­dures on his fa­ther, sis­ter and pa­ter­nal grand­mother.

He cred­its his com­pet­i­tive drive and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit to his fa­ther’s ex­am­ple and sup­port.

“My fond­est mem­ory is of Dad swear­ing me into the Air Force af­ter I grad­u­ated high school,” said Brian, who was sta­tioned in Sumter, South Carolina, and dis­charged as a sergeant af­ter two years of ser­vice. “He was smart. I of­ten went to him for ad­vice.”

Brian also in­her­ited a de­sire to stay phys­i­cally fit from his fa­ther.

“Dad reg­u­larly worked out in the gym into his older years,” he said. “He was in de­cent health right up un­til about two months be­fore he died. He got to live a good, long, hon­or­able life.”

Re­tired from the sales in­dus­try, Jan­ice Kline of Hous­ton re­mem­bers a strict but lov­ing fa­ther who taught his chil­dren the val­ues of hon­est hard work, punc­tu­al­ity, de­pend­abil­ity and loy­alty.

“He never raised his voice, but he knew how to get his mes­sage across about how he wanted us to con­duct our­selves,” said Jan­ice, who loved driv­ing her fa­ther’s car to de­liver auto body paint.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing home from col­lege and sit­ting with the fam­ily at the din­ner ta­ble one evening,” she said. “Dur­ing con­ver­sa­tion, I said a curse word for the very first time in my fam­ily’s pres­ence. I don’t even re­mem­ber what the word was, but I re­mem­ber my dad just look­ing at me and ask­ing, ‘Is this why I send you to col­lege?’”

One of Jan­ice Kline’s fond­est me­mories is of her fa­ther be­ing hon­ored by then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den in 2014. That year, Amer­ica saluted troops who had been part of the D-Day in­va­sion 70 years ear­lier.

Jan­ice emailed the White House about her fa­ther be­ing part of D-Day and turn­ing 90 that year. Bi­den re­sponded with a per­son­ally writ­ten and signed let­ter, in­clud­ing the email she had sent, thank­ing and prais­ing her fa­ther for his ser­vice.

“I’m go­ing to miss hav­ing my dad around to talk to ev­ery week­end,” she said through tears.

Kline’s World War II ser­vice ex­tended far be­yond D-Day. His 65 bomb­ing mis­sions to­taled more than 400 com­bat hours. He earned 10 Air Medals and got through the war, his own words, “with­out a bruise,” though he had some close calls.

One came on D-Day.

“On the way back to Eng­land, just as we were leav­ing France, we gained some al­ti­tude and hit some heavy flak — a bar­rage of 88 mil­lime­ters shoot­ing at us,” Kline said. “I was nav­i­gat­ing and had my legs apart and the maps on the Plex­i­glas floor be­tween my legs so I could spot where we were.

“I leaned for­ward and checked the maps, then I sat back to see what was go­ing on. And just as I did that, a piece of flak about 4 inches in di­am­e­ter crashed through the Plex­i­glas below me and came right up be­tween my legs and through the top of the Plex­i­glas. It missed my head by inches.

“If I had been look­ing at my maps more care­fully, I wouldn’t be talk­ing to you. The pi­lot said on the in­ter­com, ‘Kliney, are you OK?‘ I said, ‘Yes, I’m fine, but I’m teed off. It ripped up my maps.’”

Dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge, Kline was shot down twice in one week — on Dec. 24, 1944, dur­ing the bat­tle for Bas­togne, and again on Dec. 30.

Both times, he and the pi­lot and co-pi­lot stayed with the plane and crash-landed.

Kline re­ceived the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross for “su­pe­rior air­man­ship and courage” on the Dec. 30 mis­sion, dur­ing which he dropped bombs that broke up en­emy sup­ply lines and then tended to the flak-wounded top tur­ret gun­ner, who could not be saved.

Kline came home in June 1945 as a tech­ni­cal sergeant and joined the ac­tive re­serve, re­tir­ing from the Air Force as a ma­jor in 1984.

Kline was a role model for not only his chil­dren, but for oth­ers like Air Force Re­serve Master Sgt. Thomas Ri­ley. Us­ing his mil­i­tary con­tacts, Kline for years helped Ri­ley re­cruit young Le­high Val­ley res­i­dents into the ser­vice.

The two grew so close that Ri­ley had Kline over for an­nual hol­i­day fam­ily gath­er­ings. The men talked about their shared love of ser­vice, about his­tory, about the na­ture of war and how his­tory of­ten turned on the sac­ri­fices of or­di­nary peo­ple.

That June day over France haunted Kline be­cause he knew what might have hap­pened to the world had the or­di­nary peo­ple storm­ing the beaches and drop­ping the bombs failed.

“D-Day never van­ished for him,” Ri­ley said. “It was al­ways a crys­tal-clear pic­ture. I think he al­most had a vi­sion. He un­der­stood what the out­come could have been and it was worth the sac­ri­fice.”

In his life af­ter the war, Kline “laid the ground­work for me and oth­ers in mod­el­ing what it means to be self­less, to serve your coun­try and com­mu­nity,” said Ri­ley, who vis­ited his friend daily in the hospi­tal dur­ing Kline’s last months. “He was the light that walked into the room.” Morn­ing Call re­porter An­drew Scott can be reached at 610-8206508 or as­[email protected]

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

In this photo taken Aug. 15, 2015, Ma­jor Nathan Kline, USAF, Ret. talks about his WWII ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of The Spirit of ’45, a cer­e­mony to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of WWII.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.