GM2c Robert Edwin Kline; the USS Arizona Collection
A collection of artifacts and documents related to US Navy Gunners Mate 2nd Class Robert Edwin Kline, who was killed on the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, HI on December 7th, 1941.
Remembering and Honoring a Fallen Family Member
My name is Kevin Kline, and I am the great nephew of Robert (Bobby) Edwin Kline. For as long as I can remember, I have always had an interest to learn about him and to tell the story of a family member who’s life was cut short at a very young age. I obviously did not ever meet Robert, as I was born 34 years after his death. However, despite not ever knowing him personally, I did know his brother, his sister, his nieces and nephews and his sister-in-law. So with that said, I have always felt a very strong connection to him. I knew just enough about Robert to get the story started, and from there, I spent many long nights researching his records and discovering as much as I could about this “kid”, my uncle, who’s tragic death played a part in our country entering into World War 2.
Robert Edwin Kline was born October 28, 1919 in Emporium, PA and lived in Olean, NY. He joined the U.S. Navy on October 13, 1937 at the age of 17, and served until his death just four years later. Luckily, during his years traveling in the Navy, Robert mailed home items to his sister Ruth Kline in Buffalo, NY. Over time, with some research and persistence, I began to amass a small collection of items and documents related to his service, or personally owned by Robert himself. And so, I feel a great responsibility to protect, curate and tell the story of Robert Kline through these passed down stories, pictures, objects, artifacts and documents.
Just some of the items and documents I’ve collected to tell his story are below. Special thanks to the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor and The University of Arizona for their time and expertise helping me along the way the past decade. Also, and most importantly, a huge thank you to the family members that saved items, remembered stories and helped me in this process of keeping the spirit and the story of Robert Edwin Kline alive.
The photo of Robert above starts him on his journey as a 17 year old apprentice seaman in the United States Navy. It was taken in 1937 while a recruit at the Newport Rhode Island Naval Training Station. The hat above seen worn in Robert’s boot camp picture is from the Newport NTS dated 1937 and is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Robert Kline pictured on Christmas Eve December 24, 1937 soon after graduating from the Newport Rhode Island Naval Training Station. His first ship assignment will be the U.S.S. Arizona and he received orders to report to the USS Arizona on March 8, 1938. The US Navy pistol belt and leggings (also known as Gaiters or spats) pictured above and seen worn on Robert’s Seaman uniform are now on display at the KFT American History Museum.
“Kline, Robert E. – you have been assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona…”
I can only assume that Robert was exhilarated in hearing the news his first assignment was the U.S.S. Arizona. In 1937, the Arizona was no ordinary ship. It was the flagship of the U.S. Naval Pacific Fleet, but more so, the ship had become world famous in 1934 due to Warner Brothers filming the romantic comedy “Here Comes the Navy” on board the actual ship. Starring James Cagney, Pat O’brien, Gloria Stuart and Frank McHugh, the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and earned over $1.7 million at the box office. President Herbert Hoover took a vacation cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Arizona after it went under a complete modernization in 1931. The U.S.S. Arizona was the pride of the Navy, and it must have been exciting news for any sailor to start their career aboard this ship.
The Kline Family (From left to right: Arthur Kline (father), Eugene Kline (brother), Grant Kline (brother), Anna Ruth Kline (sister), Robert Kline and Jerry Kline (brother) at the bottom. (Photo has been digitally restored and colorized)
Taken in late January or early February of 1938 in Olean, NY, this is the last known photo of Robert Kline with his family before leaving for San Pedro, CA to board the U.S.S. Arizona. Robert completed his basic training in December 1937 and was allowed 30 days of vacation before beginning his new ship assignment. Throughout the next 3 years, Robert would send home items to his sister Ruth, who he is standing next to above.
Robert’s Journey from Pollywog to Shellback
On July 24, 1940, the U.S.S. Arizona, with Robert aboard, crossed the equator for the third and final time northeast of Jarvis Island in the south Pacific Ocean. It would be Robert’s first time crossing the equator. Robert and all the other sailors aboard the ship who had never crossed the equator before (referred to as Pollywogs) were served a summons and subpoena and required to attend a traditional line crossing ceremony called “The Domain of Neptune Rex”. The goal was to graduate from a “slimy pollywog” to becoming a trusted “Shellback”. This rite of passage for sailors around the world dates back over 400 years and the tradition still continues today. Hazing, along with embarrassing tasks and duties created camaraderie among the sailors and turned the slimy Pollywog into the honored Shellback.
Above is the actual Subpoena and Summons issued to Seaman First Class Robert Kline on board the U.S.S. Arizona to attend the Line Crossing Ceremony on July 24, 1940. This document above is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Robert Kline, (pictured on left in black bikini-top) poses for a photo while participating in the traditional equator crossing ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Arizona on July 24, 1940. Hazing and embarrassing tasks such as being forced to dress in drag as seen above, were part of the tradition to initiate a rookie sailor into what was referred to as a trusty Shellback. In this photo Robert is well on his way to earning the title of a Shellback. This is the last known photo of Robert to exist and the only photo known to exist of him aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.
Costumes were all part of the fun during a line crossing ceremony for King Neptune’s Court and Cast of Characters. This original King Neptune hula-skirt, made from thousands of threaded string was used for dressing up and playing the important role of the entertainment during the days ceremony. While we do have a picture of two sailors wearing the skirt on the U.S.S. Arizona on July 24, 1940, it was deemed a little too risqué to publish on this website. Regardless, we are happy to have this piece in our collection and more so, grateful that a piece like this survived.
After successfully completing the day as a Pollywog from his fellow sailors and shellbacks aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, Robert Kline received this certificate above to forever induct him into the “Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep”. The original certificate above is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
This “Crossing The Line” ceremony book above was printed by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on Merchant Street in 1940 and a copy was given to each crew member aboard the U.S.S. Arizona that participated in the ceremony. The book is an extremely accurate and complete log of the entire days events from July 24, 1940. It includes dozens of pictures from the day, but also includes the entire script followed by the crew to play out the event, along with accurate descriptions of what took place. The book also lists the entire roster of participants from the U.S.S. Arizona, including those that portrayed the cast of characters from King Neptune’s Court and Entourage, the complete roster of shellback officers, and a list of names of the entire crew of “pollywogs”. Robert’s name is of course listed as a participant. Only a few copies of this book are known to exist and this copy is in extremely great condition. It remains on display at the KFT History Museum.
When Robert originally boarded the Arizona, he did so in its original port of San Pedro, CA close to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. However, as political tensions escalated in the Pacific with Japan, the decision was made to move the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in the summer of 1940. Above is a souvenir pennant in the collection, most likely sold in a shore gift shop around late 1940 or early 1941.
The word is still out…. and we’re still doing the research on this USS Arizona tooled leather holder. The dog embossed on the leather’s center may be the hint we need to discover what this item was used for. Our friends at the University of Arizona Special Collections Division have a large collection of pictures with the mascot of the U.S.S. Arizona; a dog named At’Em. We hope we can connect this item with someone on board the Arizona and with At’Em the dog. When we received the piece, the whisk broom was attached. We’re unsure if the broom is original to the piece or was just added later. If anyone has any info about this piece, please email us and give us your thoughts!
On Board the U.S.S. Arizona
On September 10, 1940, Robert re-enlisted for 2 more years of service in the United States Navy. He was recommended for a Good Conduct Medal and received $75.00 as a re-enlistment bonus. On February 26, 1941, Robert personally signed the document above to receive his Good Conduct Medal and accompanying pin for re-enlistment. Robert’s faint signature can just barely be seen above his typed name on the record card. At 21 years old, the decision to re-enlist in the Navy would seal Robert’s fate, and now he unknowingly had less than 10 months to live. The charred remains of the document he signed above was salvaged off of the U.S.S. Arizona just days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This original US Navy Good Conduct Medal and pin above is currently on display at the KFT American History Museum.
On September 18, 1940, Robert received the rate of Gunners Mate 3rd Class (GM3c). His original training certificate is pictured above along with an original Navy Training Course study guide and instructional manual for the rate of GM3c. Also pictured, a GM3c patch and sleeve insignia. These items, along with 2 other of Robert’s original rate certificates are on display in the KFT American History Museum.
Oven Mitts? No Way! These authentic US Navy Gunners Mate gloves were used to handle hot ordinance. These original gloves from 1940, are made of all leather. However, many of these types of gloves worn throughout WW2 were insulated with asbestos, making the working environment even more dangerous as these gloves were commonly damaged and torn during training and battle, allowing asbestos to rain down on the sailors below deck. The above leather gloves are in great condition and show only minor burn marks and damage. They are on display in the KFT American History Museum.
On November 10, 1941, Robert received the above Discipline Warning signed by Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh of the U.S.S. Arizona for returning 2 hours and 35 minutes late to the ship the previous evening Saturday November 9th. Robert was expected to return on board the Arizona that Saturday evening by 1:00am. However, it was noted he boarded the ship at 3:35am. Only a warning notice was placed in his file. Just 28 days later, both Robert and Captain Valkenburgh would be killed during the attack.
Robert Kline’s US NAVY Uniform Tunic
With ribbons added posthumously, this uniform quietly stands as a memorial and testament to Robert’s love of the Navy as well as his great service and sacrifice to our Nation. As he had written his intention was to make a career out of the Navy, there was no telling how far his career may have taken him if his life wasn’t cut short. The three white stripes on the cuffs indicate his rank of Seaman 1st class. The red single stripe on the right arm indicate 4 years of service in the Navy. The patch indicates his rate of Gunners Mate 2nd Class (GM2c). And finally his uniform ribbons include the Purple Heart, Navy Good Conduct, American Defense, Asiatic Pacific Campaign w/Fleet Bar and the WW2 Victory Ribbon.
The Day of Infamy; December 7, 1941
At 7:55am on board the U.S.S. Arizona, the ship’s air raid alarm sounded and the ship went to General Quarters or Battle Stations. Most likely at this point, everyone on board knew they were under some sort of attack. The Japanese aircraft scored four hits and three near misses on and around the Arizona but it was the the last bomb hit at 8:06am in the vicinity of Turret II, likely penetrating the armored deck near the magazines located in the forward section of the ship.
While not enough of the ship is intact to judge the exact location, its effects are indisputable: about seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and destroying much of the interior structure of the forward part of the ship. This caused the forward turrets and conning tower to collapse downward some 25–30 feet and the foremast and funnel to collapse forward, effectively tearing the ship in half. The explosion touched off fierce fires that burned for two days; debris showered down on Ford Island in the vicinity. The blast from this explosion also put out fires on the repair ship Vestal, which was moored alongside. The bombs and subsequent explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, approximately half of the lives lost during the attack. Robert was one of the sailors killed by this explosion
What the Family knew…
On December 20, 1941, 13 days after the attack, Robert’s father receives the above Western Union Telegram notifying him that his son is Missing in Action.
On January 28, 1942, 52 days after the attack, Robert’s father receives this second Western Union Telegram notifying that after an exhaustive search, Robert was now declared to have lost his life in the service of his country.
Dated February 2, 1942 this letter of condolence above was sent to Robert’s father from Frank Knox, the United States Secretary of the Navy.
Robert’s Death Became News in and around Olean and Buffalo, NY
Little Brother Enlists in Navy at 17 to Avenge Robert’s Death
Less than a week after December 7th, Robert’s younger brother Gerald “Jerry” Kline quit his job working at the local theater in Olean, NY and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Jerry would go on to bravely serve throughout the entire war in the pacific, earning a total of 12 battle stars and participating in major campaigns including the liberation of Okinawa, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands just to name a few. Robert’s older brother Eugene Kline was already enlisted in the US Army assigned to the 174th infantry at the time of the attack. Robert’s 3rd brother Arthur Kline Jr was employed at the Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, TX.
Salvaging the U.S.S. ARIZONA
The above charred fingerprint card belonging to Robert Kline’s personnel file was salvaged off of the U.S.S. Arizona. It was one of the many items and documents removed from the ship by the Navy after the attack. Robert’s entire file, though burned and frail, survived the attack and we were able to use much of the information in his file to piece dates and timelines together. Robert’s original salvaged service files are held and maintained by the National Archives and the curator stated the papers still have a distinct smell of diesel fuel on them. A complete copy of all his original service files are available to view at the KFT American History Museum.
HONORING & REMEMBERING ROBERT
In December of 1943, this Purple Heart certificate was issued to Robert Edwin Kline posthumously. Robert’s father received the award along with the engraved Purple Heart medal below. It was sent by the Navy Department via US Mail. Both the award and the medal are on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Above is the original Purple Heart medal awarded to Robert E. Kline, now currently on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Awarded posthumously to Robert Kline, this American Defense Medal, ribbon and lapel pin above was intended to recognize those military service members who had served on active duty between September 8, 1939, and December 7, 1941. The added fleet bar was issued to any member who was assigned to a ship and served more than 12 months active service. Established by Executive Order 8808, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on June 28, 1941. The medal in its original presentation box, currently resides on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Awarded posthumously, to Robert Kline, this World War II Victory Medal was awarded to any service member who actively served in any unit of the armed forces between December 7, 1941 and December 31. 1946. The World War II Victory Medal was first issued as a service ribbon referred to as the “Victory Ribbon.” The Medal was established by an Act of Congress on July 6, 1945. This medal and ribbon, in its original box, is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
The USS PORTENT (AM-106) was laid down in November 1941 at the Pennsylvania Shipyards in Beaumont, TX where Robert’s brother Arthur Kline Jr, was employed. It was officially launched in honor of Robert Edwin Kline on August 16, 1942 with a ceremony sponsored by Mrs. Arthur Kline, Jr. who christened the ship. The U.S.S. Portent was an Auk-class minesweeper acquired by the United States Navy for the dangerous task of removing mines from minefields laid in the water to prevent ships from passing. From May thru November 1943, the Portent was used escorting convoys between New York City and Casablanca, Morocco. Then assigned to a convoy entering the Mediterranean, she anchored outside Oran, Algeria on 22 November. Finally deployed to Italy, she arrived at Naples on 19 December. The Portent was assigned to assist with the invasion of Anzio, Italy. Unfortunately, the U.S.S. Portent struck a mine while patrolling near the Italian coast and sank just south of Anzio on January 22, 1944. Nearby ships rescued the survivors.
WWII Gold Star Pins for the Kline Family
Pictured above: Still in their original boxes, are two of the five original Gold Star Pins known to still exist, that were issued to Robert Kline’s immediate family in 1949. Robert’s mother Lura, his sister Ruth and his brothers Eugene, Arthur Jr. and Jerry all were eligible to have received one. Robert’s father and brother Grant had passed away before this award was created.
A Gold Star Lapel Button is issued to the direct family members of service members who died in World War I and World War II and subsequent armed hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States has been engaged. The Gold Star Lapel Button was established by Act of Congress in August 1947. This tradition of Gold Star families still exists today, so if you see someone wearing one of these pins, you should know they lost someone close to them in the service of our Country.
The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, HI marks the final resting place of Robert Edwin Kline and 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and commemorates the events of that day. The memorial, built in 1962, is visited by more than two million people annually. Accessible only by boat, it straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it. Historical information about the attack, shuttle boats to and from the memorial, and general visitor services are available at the associated USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, which opened in 1980 and is operated by the National Park Service. The battleship’s sunken remains were declared a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1989.
Robert Kline Receives Memorial Head Stone at Arlington National Cemetery
On October 16, 2006 just 12 days before what would have been Robert’s 87’th birthday, a memorial service was held for Robert at Arlington National Cemetery. While Robert’s remains are still interred within the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor, HI, Robert still qualified for a full service and memorial stone in Arlington. On that day 13 family members came to pay their respects. Martha Kline, who was Robert’s sister-in-law and the only living person at the time that had known Robert personally, accepted the flag and the Navy’s condolences on behalf of the family. The video clip above captured his 21 gun salute, taps and the flag presentation.
Kline Family visits the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial; August 2022
On august 11, 2022 my family and I took the voyage to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and pay our respects to Robert and the other 1,176 other men who were killed on his ship during the Pearl Harbor attack. The video above captures our experience through some young family members eyes. The National Park Service was kind enough to help raise a flag on the main flag pole to honor Robert and presented that flag to Sarah and Ella, two of Robert’s youngest family members. Hopefully this experience will remain with them and they will grasp the importance of keeping their family member’s sacrifices and memories alive.
The U.S.S. Arizona Collection
A collection of miscellaneous U.S.S. Arizona items and artifacts acquired and preserved by the Kline Family Trust that are not directly related to Robert Kline or the family.
An original late 1930’s U.S.S. Arizona navy flat hat. (aka: The Donald Duck hat)
Around mid 1940, the US Navy stopped printing the ship names on the hat tally and issued a similar designed hat that read only US Navy. Eventually this flat hat was phased out in favor of the white “Dixie Cup” hats you see today. The hat above did not belong to Robert, but actually belonged to US Navy Coxswain Linton A. Newell from Portland Oregon, who served aboard the U.S.S. Arizona prior to Robert’s arrival on the ship. Despite not being Robert’s personal hat, it’s an important piece of our U.S.S.. Arizona collection. The hat is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
Pictured above is an authentic piece of the deck from the U.S.S. Arizona. Consisting of one piece of teak decking, it is encased by the caulking that helped keep the deck water tight. This piece was originally taken by a US Coast Guard member named Samuel Ellison of Bronson, TX who was present during the rescue efforts and the salvaging of the the ship in December of 1941. In 1983, before he passed away, the piece was given to a friend of Mr. Ellison named Mark Wolf Copeland of Thomasville, GA, a US Army Veteran. It remained in Mr. Copeland’s possession for nearly 38 years. In 2021, Kevin Kline and the KFT American History Museum acquired the piece from Mr. Copeland to be added to the Robert Kline Collection. The piece currently resides on display at the KFT American History Museum.
June 19, 1915
The USS Arizona’s Christening & Launch Ceremony
Above: Original Invitation to attend the launching ceremony of the U.S.S. Arizona. Measuring 8″ long by 5 7/8″ wide and printed on heavy stock with an embossed gold seal. This invitation would have been sent out to dignitaries and VIP’s by the Secretary of the United States Navy to attend the event. On display at the KFT American History Museum.
The USS Arizona was launched and christened on June 19, 1915 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. The tradition at a ship’s launching is to christen the bow with a bottle of champagne as the ship slips into the water for the first time. At the time of the ship’s christening, Arizona was a dry state, having passed a prohibition law in 1914. The day of the christening, there was much speculation about whether alcohol or water was to be used. The Navy left the decision up to the state’s governor who chose to christen the ship with two bottles- one containing the traditional champagne, the other containing water from the Roosevelt Dam. This pendant above is made from the brass cannon of the U.S.S.. Maine and is one that was given out to official attendees of the launch event that day. It is on display at the KFT American History Museum.
U.S.S. Arizona Baseball Team… Play Ball !!
Original picture of the U.S.S. Arizona Baseball Team circa 1925 on display at the KFT American History Museum
The U.S.S. Arizona, like many Navy ships, had their own baseball team. On December 7, 1941, the Navy at Pearl Harbor planned to hold its baseball championships, involving teams from the battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) and the carrier USS Enterprise (CV 6). Enterprise’s return to port had been pushed back, delaying the ballgame. It would never be played.
Pictured above on the deck of the U.S.S. Arizona, is an unnamed sailor wearing the teams baseball uniform circa 1925. To the right is Robert Kline’s great great niece holding what is believed to be a pair of 1920’s baseball uniform pants from the U.S.S. Arizona.
Sports were a major part of the ship moral and entertainment. Pictured above is an original program from a boxing an wrestling match between the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Pennsylvania from Thursday October 4, 1928.
From the KFT Arizona Collection, this Line Crossing Coin or Equator Token pictured above is from the U.S.S. Arizona, and was given to those sailors initiated as shellbacks after ceremoniously crossing the line on May 20, 1936. This coin was not owned by Robert Kline, but was donated to our U.S.S. Arizona collection and is on display at the KFT American History Museum. There is not any known coin or token for the July 24, 1940 crossing that Robert participated in.
This “Song and Service Book for Ship and Field” above was printed in 1941 by A.S. Barnes & Company specifically for use aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. The book contains not only songs, prayers and service instructions for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths, it also includes military honor services and instructions for funeral services. The book is in mint condition, is embossed USS ARIZONA BB-39 on the front cover and is on display at the KFT American History Museum.