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Robert R. Klingman Sr.
Nickname "Bob"
Born January 12, 1917
Died July 6, 2004(2004-07-06) (aged 87)
Place of birth Binger, Oklahoma
Place of death Kihei, Hawaii
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
United States Navy
Years of service 1934–1938 (USMC)
1940–1943 (USN)
1943–1966 (USMC)
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/wars

World War II

Korean War
Awards Navy Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal

Robert R. Klingman Sr. (January 12, 1917 – July 6, 2004) was a decorated United States Marine Corps officer. He was awarded the Navy Cross for ramming a Japanese plane and causing it to crash during World War II.

Early life and Marine Corps service[edit | edit source]

Robert R. Klingman Sr. was born on January 12, 1917, in Binger, Oklahoma, to a family of nine children.[1] Klingman's parents sent him to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Civilian Military Training during the Great Depression.[2]

In August 1934, Klingman enlisted in the Marine Corps. After basic training, Klingman was stationed at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., where he served as a drummer. During his four years in the Marines, he sent his paychecks back home to his mother. Upon returning home to Oklahoma after his discharge, Klingman opened a burger cafe.[2]

Navy service[edit | edit source]

In 1940, after encouragement from his brother, Klingman enlisted in the United States Navy. His first assignment was to the USS Tennessee, where he quickly ranked up to aircraft maintenance mechanic first class. Klingman was sent to San Diego, California for advanced carrier training, arriving there on December 7, 1941. Coincidentally, that was the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and his former ship, the USS Tennessee was partially damaged.[2]

Klingman completed his carrier operations training by September 1942. He was then discharged from active duty and entered the Naval Reserve, where he was selected as an aviation cadet. Klingman finished in the top 10 percent of his class in preflight training and subsequently attended flight school at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.[2]

Marine fighter pilot[edit | edit source]

Upon graduating from flight school, Klingman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Second Lieutenant Klingman was then given orders to Marine Fighting Squadron 312 (VMF-312). In early April 1945, VMF-312 arrived at the recently captured Kadena Airfield in Okinawa, Japan.[2][3]

On May 10, 1945, First Lieutenant Klingman and two other pilots followed Captain Kenneth Reusser up to 13,000 feet in preparation to intercept a Kawasaki Ki-45 “Nick” reconnaissance plane. The F4U Corsairs of VMF-312 typically operated at about 10,000 feet. During the battle, the Japanese were operating photo-reconnaissance planes at altitudes above 35,000 feet, well out of the Corsairs range. Reusser ordered the Marines to drop their reserve fuel tanks and they climbed to 20,000 feet. Unable to climb any higher, they were then ordered to lighten their planes by firing some of their ammunition. Klingman lightened his aircraft by 687 pounds when he fired 2,000 rounds of ammunition. The other two pilots experienced engine trouble at the high altitude and had to return to their normal operating range.[2][3][4]

Climbing to 38,000 feet, 3,000 feet above the Corsair's service ceiling, Captain Reusser fired the last of his ammunition at the "Nick" and damaged the one wing and one engine, thus causing the plane to slow down. Lieutenant Klingman sped directly behind the "Nick" and attempted to fire, but the high altitude jammed his machine guns. Klingman then radioed to Reusser, "I'm going to hit him with my plane."[2][3][4]

Klingman dove on the "Nick" while under fire from the tail gunner. Despite taking several bullets in his starboard wing, Klingman succeeded in ramming the "Nick," chopping part of the tail rudder off with his propeller. He then rammed the "Nick" a second time, severing the remainder of the rudder off. Klingman's third strike cut the tail completely off, at which point both his plane and the "Nick" went into uncontrolled dives. The "Nick" disintegrated and crashed, but Klingman managed to regain control. Despite his plane shaking violently and running out of fuel, Klingman was able to make a deadstick landing at Kadena.[2][3][4]

Two of the propeller blades were nearly bent back to the cowling, and six inches from the third was missing. First Lieutenant Klingman was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.[5]

Two days later, Klingman was forced to bail out of his plane when it began suffering hydraulic problems. He was safely picked up out of the water by an American destroyer, and his plane was shot down by friendly forces as it slowly descended towards the offshore fleet.[2]

Later career and life[edit | edit source]

Klingman kept his parachute, which his girlfriend used as her wedding dress when the two were married after the war in San Diego. Klingman later served as an air traffic controller with the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War. Klingman retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1966.[2]

Robert R. Klingman Sr. died on July 6, 2004, in Kihei, Hawaii. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

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