WWII veteran addresses historical society meeting
Whitehall Historical Preservation Society recently sponsored a special presentation at Helfrich Springs Grist Mill, highlighting the career of WWII veteran Maj. Nathan Kline, U.S. Air Force retired.
Kline, 91, a former B-26 bombardier navigator, flew missions over Europe during the war including D-Day as well as the Battle of the Bulge.
He received many awards during his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, 10 Air Metal awards, French Legion of Honor and Hall of Valor.
With these accomplishments under his belt, Kline has been a focal voice of WWII veterans in the Lehigh Valley for years.
“When I was a freshman at Muhlenburg College, I had decided I wanted to join the fight,” Kline said, as he began speaking to the crowd April 29. “After the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the world changed.
“I was 18 at the time and, back in those days, you needed to be 20 to enlist or have your parent or guardian sign a permission slip.
“My parents wanted me to continue my education, so I went against their wishes and got my uncle, who also served to sign the slip.”
Kline joined the U.S. Air Force Nov. 6, 1942. From March 1944 through April 1945 he was part of 65 bombing missions as a bombardier navigator in B-26 Marauders while assigned to the 454th Bomb Squadron, 323 Bomb Group, Ninth Air Force based in England and Europe.
Standing there in his blue uniform, with a smile on his face, Kline, who now resides at Country Meadows, Upper Macungie Township, described the many experiences he had throughout his years of service.
Some filled the room with laughs while others filled the room with heart-felt gasps as the stories of Kline touched emotions of all kinds.
The presentation involved a speech by Kline, video package of his unit, question-and-answer session and table filled with pictures and news articles featuring Kline for those in attendance to view.
Two photos showed Kline in the same spot during his youth.
One showed him looking stern. In the other, he was laughing with his leg resting on a nearby fence.
“This was me in the beginning of the day, and this was me after a couple shots of scotch,” Kline jokingly said.
Kline spoke about how in the beginning he did not quite get the pilot job he had wanted because he had failed the eye exam but after a few months, a new training opportunity opened up for those who wanted to become a bombardier navigator.
Within 90 days of the program, the 18-year-old was combat ready and was flying in planes on a daily basis.
During Kline’s 65 air missions, his plane was shot down twice behind enemy lines.
The two missions took place within five days of each other.
Kline has spoken countless times about “battle fatigue,” which is what he suffered after the near-death experiences.
Through this, Kline decided to use his experience to help veterans with job placement and health care assistance.
“Staring straight down at the ground, headlong toward disaster, it makes one think about what you’re doing with your life,” Kline said, while discussing the feeling of being in the seat he had sat in throughout his aerial career while the plane was going down. “War is hell, but it is the price of freedom, and that price is still being paid today as well.”
Kline’s unit was named “The Wolves,” and out of all the groups involved in the unit only two planes survived the entire war.
After the war, Kline returned to Muhlenburg College before eventually taking over his father’s business.
In the 1970s, he decided to get away from the Lehigh Valley and move down to Houston, Texas, for 20 years before returning to the Lehigh Valley.
Kline closed his presentation by adding a line to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous line, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
“They may fade away but they’ll always be remembered,” he added.