A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

WWII vet, attorney John H. Klette, Jr. earned Silver star, continues to serve his community at 97

By Vicki Prichard
NKyTribune Reporter

Decorated WWII B-17 bomber pilot John H. Klette, Jr. was 24-years-old when he enlisted to help his country defeat Nazi Germany.

The year was 1942, and Klette, a Covington native who was already a licensed pilot, and was practicing law with his father, when he went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH and told them he was interested in enlisting in the Air Force.

“It was actually called the Air Corps at that time,” says Klette. “It was part of the Army. It wasn’t until ’47 that we had the Air Force created.”

They told him they were conducting tests at that very moment. Klette took the exam and passed. They graded the tests immediately and Klette passed the exam.

He was immediately put on reserve and wasn’t called up to active duty until January 1943.

WWII veteran John H. Klette won Silver Star

WWII veteran John H. Klette won Silver Star

He went to San Antonio for basic which lasted two months, then within a month, though already a pilot, was sent to flying school.

“It was determined that I was better suited as a bomber pilot rather than a fighter pilot,” says Klette.

He trained all over the country and was then sent to Italy where he was quickly assigned to Foggia as a pilot in the 32nd Bombardment Squadron of the 301st Bombardment Group.

“That’s where I started my real combat flying,” says Klette. “My very first mission was to Bucharest, Romania, had a diversion flight.”

They were off to Bucharest when they came near a target. Klette saw a plane coming toward them. He looked for aircraft identification and by that time they were on fire, the engine was hit.

“After the initial shock I had the gas line on my side and I shut the line off to engine number one, and the other pilot hit the fire extinguisher and we were fortunate enough to get the fire out,” says Klette.

They dropped about 2000 feet. They had also thrown the bombs away to get rid of them. The group that had gone ahead of them, they got down below them then scattered there airplanes in all directions.

Klette flew 51 missions in WWII.

His second and third missions were at Monte Cassino and involved the bombing of a monastery during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

 John Klette, Jr. always had a love of aviation.

John Klette, Jr. always had a love of aviation.

Klette points out that Monte Cassino and the events that took place there were featured in the film “The Monuments Men,” directed, produced and written by Augusta, KY native George Clooney.

“Only very recently I’ve seen an article in the newspaper that they had finished restoring the destruction on Monte Cassino,” says Klette.

Klette says U.S. troops were trying to go up toward Rome in Monte Cassino and the Germans were on a high hill at the monastery where they could shoot down, stalling the offense to a standstill, so they were trying to break that up.

Other missions, he says, were not heavily defended and they all got back into line.

“I was on one mission to a suburb of Vienna, which proved to be the worst mission I was on,” says Klette.

The mission took place July 27, 1944. Klette recalls it as if it were yesterday.

“We were the tail end group of the formation and were hit by German planes,” says Klette.

According to an official Air Force report dated August 24, 1944, the 32nd Bombardment Squadron was “aggressively attached by approximately 70 persistent enemy fighters, and in ensuing engagement, their aircraft was severely damaged.

As a result of the attack, fires started, oxygen supply was destroyed and one crewmember was seriously wounded.

“Despite the overwhelming odds, displaying outstanding courage and professional skill in the face of enemy fire, this gallant crew beat off wave after wave of hostile ships, destroying (9) and probably destroying or damaging several others,” the report states.

The report goes on to say that “turning from the target after a successful bombing run, they again encountered heavy enemy opposition, and in spite of the fact that five guns were rendered inoperative and their aircraft severely damaged, they drove off all subsequent attacks, accounting for several more aircraft destroyed or damaged.”

“Then we got down toward the Adriatic Sea to try to go down there for two purposes, either make a forced landing on an island that we knew about or ditch in the Adriatic,” says Klette. “But the plane held together and we got back to our base. Got the plane down on the ground.”

John Klette, Jr.

John Klette, Jr.

“The entire crew was awarded the Silver Star on that mission,” Klette humbly says about receiving the third-highest combat decoration to be awarded to a U.S. Armed Forces member.

The report goes a bit further in describing the squadron’s gallantry.

“Through outstanding teamwork and determination, they then brought their almost unairworthy aircraft through to base without further damage or injury to crew. By their conspicuous gallantry, professional skill and devotion to duty, as evidenced throughout their brilliant combat careers, those men have reflected great credit upon themselves and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

Klette was 25-years-old when he received the Silver Star.

“Oh, there were kids 19 and 20,” says Klette.

Klette finished his last combat mission on Thanksgiving Day in 1944. Then was sent to Naples awaiting transportation to the states.

“I qualified to go back by air but the Bulge was taking place and priority was being given to high ranking officers. Eventually, they had to clear out Naples so I was put on a ship and the officers were in the hull of the ship. It took us about ten days to two weeks to zig-zag our way across,” says Klette.

He arrived December 23, his arrival paralleling with that of Herbert George Bush who was making his way up to the New England states from his combat duty.

“We both got to our homes on Christmas Eve,” says Klette

Klette spent the night there and says they did everything possible for them and issued orders to get them on home.

Early morning on Christmas Day, Klette had his orders and caught a bus to Indianapolis and then a bus on down to Cincinnati.

“I get home and my mother and father weren’t there,” says Klette.

A model airplane graces a cabinet in veteran John Klette, Jr.'s law office in Ft. Mitchell

A model airplane graces a cabinet in veteran John Klette, Jr.’s law office in Ft. Mitchell

Klette’s parents had no idea he was coming home. He quickly went to a neighbor contacted his parents for him.

After WWII, Klette became an Air Force reservist and served 21 months in Korea. He flew 50 combat missions in Korea, totaling more than 100 missions for two wars.

Klette went back to law school to work on his last year. At that time, he says, people could practice law if they had two years of law school and passed the bar. Klette wanted to complete his degree, and he did. He was in a special class of four that included others who had returned from service.

Joe Summe was a classmate, says Klette, the father of Kenton County Circuit Judge Patsy Summe and Kenton County Clerk, Gabrielle Summe.

After leaving military service in 1952, Klette returned to Covington to practice law with his father on Third Street.. He remained there until 1990 when the office made way for bridge reconstruction, then moved his practice to Fort Mitchell.

Klette remains a man of deep passion for aviation and law.

At 97-years-old, Klette continues to practice law. He practices with his daughter Ruth Klette, his only child, at their law office of Klette, Klette and Mauntel on Grandview Drive, where he arrives to work by 8:30 a.m. every day.

John Klette, Jr., at his Ft. Mitchell law office of Klette, Klette and Mauntel

John Klette, Jr., at his Ft. Mitchell law office of Klette, Klette and Mauntel

Klette also remains a man who is committed to his community and has served on numerous civic organizations such as the Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, where he has served as secretary of the board of trustees for nearly 50 years. Many veterans are buried in the cemetery, as far back as the Revolutionary War.

But it is a veteran who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery whom he feels strongly about recognizing.

U.S. Air Force pilot Jesse Auton, the valedictorian of the 1923 graduating class of Piner High School in Piner, KY, flew missions in two wars and served as a White House aide under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Klette would like to see a memorial in Auton’s honor in Independence Cemetery.

Klette encourages those in the community to attend the 20th Annual Memorial Day service at Highland Cemetery. The service, he says, begins at 10 a.m., May 30 near the cemetery chapel.

Beechwood band will be on hand to perform and refreshments will be available.

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2 Comments

  1. patrick sowers says:

    Class act. Thanks for your service. John’s story is typical of the brave young men and women who have served our country. I’m humbled and proud to call you my friend.

  2. Julia Oiler says:

    John Klette is as fine a man as one could ever hope to find. I thank him for the sacrifices he and many like him have made in the efforts to protect our country. I am proud to have known him.

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