Robert Edwin Kline, was born to Arthur Lowery Kline and Lura Holcomb Kline in Emporium, Cambria County, Pennsylvania on October 28, 1919. Robert’s father Arthur, worked at a foundry and later a chemical business, and his mother Lura was a homemaker.
The family, which included eight children, first suffered loss in 1916 when an infant son died of pneumonia. A 4 month old infant daughter named Madlyn Delores Kline also died of cholera in September 1918. Robert had three older living brothers; Arthur Jr., Eugene and Grant. He also had one older sister named Ruth and one younger brother named Jerry.
In 1929, his parents separated. Robert, just 10 at the time, along with his younger brother Jerry (5), were taken to Beaumont, TX by their mother. They were left to be raised during that time by their grandparents, as Lura moved back to Buffalo, NY.
At 16, Robert worked as a grocery clerk from September 1935 to June 1936 for Mrs. P.E. Kennedy at 3416 Mag Avenue in Beaumont. He then took a job with W.P. Gaston Grocer, also on Mag Avenue in Beaumont, TX until April 1937. Robert also worked as a helper at the newly built Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Beaumont, TX until he was laid off in June 1937.
At just 17 years of age, Robert had only completed school through the 9th grade, didn’t have any valuable skill or trade, and was now out of work. He and his brother Jerry moved back to Olean, NY to live with their father, and on Wednesday June 30, 1937, Robert walked into the the Naval Recruiting Office in Buffalo, NY and filled out an application for enlistment with the United States Navy.
Being just 17, Robert needed both his parents consent to join the Navy. On Wednesday October 6, 1937, his father Arthur signed the “Enlistment of a Minor Consent Form” allowing Robert to join, and the following day his mother Lura signed a separate consent form. Robert was officially enlisted in the Navy.
War tensions were already beginning to brew at the time Robert enlisted. It’s interesting to point out that around this time, the Empire of Japan was already conducting invasions and occupations within mainland China, and were quietly but aggressively building up their Army and Naval forces. Adolf Hitler had full control of Germany, and had already violated the Treaty of Versailles by openly holding rearmament rallies and militarizing the Rhineland. However, America had a nationalist policy at the time. And after its involvement in World War One, most American’s did not have any interest in another foreign conflict.
On October 14, 1937, Robert reported to the United States Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island for basic training. After 11 weeks of training, he officially graduated on December 31, 1937.
On Saturday February 12, 1938, Robert was temporarily reassigned to the USS Henderson ComBase to wait and receive his first ship or duty assignment. It was on this day, he would also be notified of his first ship assignment in the US Navy; the battleship U.S.S. Arizona with a home port of San Pedro, California.
(From left to right: father Arthur Kline, brothers Eugene and Grant, sister Ruth, Robert Kline and brother Jerry at the bottom.)
Prior to arriving aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, Robert was granted some R&R to spend time with family. He returned home to Olean, NY. The picture above is from that time between graduation and leaving for San Pedro. The exact date of this photo is unknown.
A minesweeper, the USS Portent, was christened in Mr. Kline’s honor in August 1942 at the Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, Texas. His brother Arthur L. Kline Jr. worked there. The ship struck a mine off the coast of Italy and sank in January 1944.
Sources: Written and researched by Kevin Kline