ODU Professor Will Be Featured on Smithsonian Channel Episode About the Battle of Midway
October 31, 2019
Timothy Orr, associate professor of history at Old Dominion University and co-author of the book "Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway," will be among the experts featured on an upcoming Smithsonian Channel episode about the famous World War II battle.
"Never Call Me a Hero," co-written with Orr's wife, Laura (education director at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum), is the memoir of N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss. He helped sink three ships during the battle - two aircraft carriers and a cruiser. Kleiss, who was stationed for a time in Norfolk, received two of the highest awards the Navy can bestow - the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy Cross.
"Battle of Midway: The True Story" will premiere on Nov. 11. The episode will feature segments from the book, as well as interviews with Orr and his wife. He talks about the flow of the battle; she talks about Kleiss and what he experienced. The full schedule for the for the episode can be found at this link. A longer version of the episode will be available online after the initial TV airings.
The Battle of Midway, which was June 4 to 6, 1942, is considered one of the turning points of the Pacific Theater.
"The Americans are reeling after Pearl Harbor," Orr said in an interview. "They kind of snap back with this unexpected battle. They're terribly outnumbered, but they end up sinking four Japanese carriers."
Orr described Kleiss as "a pivotal pilot in this battle." He flew a two-seat dive bomber.
"You go up to about 4 miles high and then with the rest of the squadron you go nose over, almost straight to the ground," Orr said. "When you get about 1,500 feet from your target, you release the bomb and you pull out - kind of like a game of chicken with the ocean."
Orr said most of the airmen who fought at Midway were killed - they were either shot down or ran out of fuel trying to get back to their carriers.
He hasn't seen "Battle of Midway" but he said he understands that Kleiss will be the main character of the episode.
"I think he's going to be the leading narrator of this," Orr said. "The interesting thing about it is they're going to take a more revisionist approach - which was always his approach. The traditional depiction of the Battle of Midway is the Americans won through luck. Dusty's argument was that the Americans did not win through luck. They won through the bravery and the training of the pilots. It looks like luck because he says the admirals who were in command gave some really bad orders. ... That's why so many pilots died."
The Smithsonian episode will air just days after the release of the big-budget Hollywood film "Midway," which is directed by Roland Emmerich.
The Orrs had no involvement with the film, but they participated in a documentary about the battle funded by Leva Filmworks that is planned for the Blu-ray version. He also said some of the actors said they read "Never Call Me a Hero" to research their roles.
Midway was the last battle Kleiss fought; he spent the rest of the war as an aviation instructor in the States. He died at age 100 in 2016, a year before the book was published. He was the last living member of his squadron and the second-to-last Navy pilot from the battle still alive at the time.
"Toward the end of his life, Dusty thought he had one more mission, and that was to tell this story," Orr said. "He was a deeply religious guy, and he believed that God has chosen him to live long enough to tell it."