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Frank Otto Klein

Born: Mon., Nov. 21, 1921
Died: Sat., May 9, 2020


Funeral Service


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Frank Otto Klein passed away on May 9, 2020 at the age of 98. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Frank and Eva (Haubrich) Klein, just weeks after his immigrant Austrian-Hungarian born parents arrived in the United States.

Throughout his life Frank enjoyed sharing memories of his past. After settling in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (where he attended primary school), his early memories included silent movies, hand-cranked telephones, the beginning of radio, manual cranked and battery-operated cars, and the onset of the Great Depression.

A pre-teen memory was entering the home of a still-living Civil War veteran in order to interview him for his school’s newspaper.

Later in his life, Frank would meet a number of notable figures in history, such as Henry Ford, President Harry Truman, General Douglas MacArthur, and movie stars Robert Mitchum, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, and Carole Landis. Adventure seemed to underscore every decade of Frank’s life. Frank attended boarding school in Vienna, Austria from 1933 to 1934. Memories of this period include the Austrian Civil War and the threat of Hitler. In 1934, a 13-year-old Frank led his younger brother, Oscar, on the long homeward journey via horse and wagon, train transfers and an ocean liner all the way from Yugoslavia to Chicago, Illinois.

Frank fondly remembered playing football and boxing after returning to the United States. Frank recalled a football long-distance passing duel he had with an opposing high school football player named Pat Harder, who later became an All-Pro Fullback while playing for the Chicago Bears in 1947. Frank also recalled winning the Golden Gloves title after he pummeled the local Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion as a lightweight boxer at 135 pounds.

The end of the Great Depression years had Frank experiencing the poverty of unemployment without any support. Shortly before World War II, however, he landed the role of a radio character on CBS’s “Campbell’s Playhouse” in New York City. Here he was on programs with movie stars such as Lon McAllister and Burgess Meredith. Later, his Hollywood experience would continue when he was given a leading role in the Air Force’s official training film on “Polar Navigation.” This film has been archived (USAF TFI-4599). Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Frank volunteered for military service and was inducted as a Private in the Army Air Forces. Upon graduation as a 2nd Lieutenant, Frank was assigned to a B-17 Photo-Charting Squadron where he was assigned to assist in the mapping of photographically uncharted regions of the continental United States.

During the remainder of WWII, Frank was a photo reconnaissance and photomapping navigator, serving 39 combat missions in the Far East Air Force under General Kenney with the B-24 Liberator in the Southwest Pacific in the years 1944-1945. When asked about his wartime activities, he would state that the correction of charts and the mapping of uncharted areas serve as a legacy of his wartime activities.

While training at the Aviation Cadet Preflight Training Base at Santa Ana, California, Frank met his beautiful wife, Jane Wills, a professional model and dancer, whom he married on Valentine’s Day in 1944. Jane would become an “Earl Carroll’s Showgirl” in Hollywood. Frank’s eldest daughter, Nita Maria, was born during his combat tour absence in late 1944 (sadly, she passed away in May 2006 at the age of 62 after a long fight with cancer). One year after the end of WWII, Frank was assigned to fly Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-29 Super Fortress long-range reconnaissance and mapping missions to cover the entire Arctic. Some flights exceeded 30 hours. In addition to being trained as a navigator, Frank also had training as a pilot, bombardier, radar operator, and aerial gunner. It was while he was at the “triple-rated” school for navigator, bombardier and radar operator training at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California, that his only son, Frank II, was born on his wife’s birthday in November 1949.

Frank’s reconnaissance and mapping missions required “polar grid navigation” and his developmental work, together with the work of three other navigators, earned them nomination for the Legion of Merit. It is of interest to note that the United States Air Force (USAF) Legion of Merit for which he had been nominated was only awarded to him 50 years later, after the declassification of files. One of Frank’s outstanding achievements during this period came from a study he undertook on his own initiative, prompted initially simply by curiosity, where he rediscovered the location of the Magnetic North Pole and two associated local navigational magnetic poles. For this endeavor, he was awarded membership in the scientifically internationally renowned American Geophysical Union. Even as late as 1993, his work was being recognized. NASA Scientist Louis Walter declared, “…by triangulation [now] the pole can be located, although not with the precision obtained by Lt. Klein.” The rediscovery not only revealed a new location of this pole but also suggested it was a moving phenomenon rather than being stationary. Frank’s work on magnetic declination values over the northwestern Arctic were depicted in the journal of The American Geographical Union in Volume 30, No.2, April 1949.

Among a plethora of top-secret projects, Klein participated in photomapping all the islands in the Canadian Archipelago, which resulted in significant map changes of the area. Frank took delight in telling his family members that his eyes were the very first to see a number of necessary map changes. In one instance, Bathurst Island, somewhat central in the Archipelago, had been depicted as one island and was, in fact, an area of dozens of islands. On another flight he saw and reported that Northeastern Victoria Island was not a peninsula but a separate island. He can lay claim to having crossed the north geographical pole multiple times during the latter 1940s.

Frank’s additional awards and medals include a “Distinguished Flying Cross” for his help in locating a lost crew on northern Greenland who had originally reported themselves down in Siberia (the “Keybird” incident), several WWII Air Medals and Post WWII Outstanding Unit Awards, 4 battle stars to his Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, one battle star to his Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and a bevy of subordinate medals and ribbons. Uniquely, while in Germany in 1978, the President of (then) West Germany, Walter Scheel, awarded him the prestigious Service Cross 1st Class of the Meritorious Service Awards of the Federal Republic of Germany (Iron Cross) for his consultant services to the German Air Force. This award has been rarely accorded to a foreigner.

It was in 1960, four years after the birth of his second daughter, Cynthia, in December 1956, that Frank and his family moved from California to Germany.

His military assignments in Europe were as an Intelligence Analyst at NATO, EUCOM, and USAFE Headquarters. More than a decade in diversified professional activities centered at the American Embassy in Bonn-Bad Godesberg serve as a highlight in his working career. Frank retired as a USAF Colonel in 1981, with 31 ½ years of accrued active duty and reserve service. In civilian life, Frank remained very active. He worked for the RAND Corporation, a think-tank for the USAF, and for the System Development Corporation that was engaged in the development of large-scale information systems for the USAF. During most of his civilian career, he supervised senior academic professionals with diversified academic disciplines.

Frank settled in Temecula, California, and remained there for 16 ½ years. He was a Public Safety Commissioner for the City of Temecula while also pursuing interests in golf, swimming, and ice-skating. The local Press-Enterprise Temecula-Murrieta newspaper in its Sept. 8, 2000 edition had a frontpage feature story titled “Pointing the Way” detailing Klein’s rediscovery of the Magnetic North Pole. This article prompted a movie incorporating Klein’s Arctic exploit by a professional filmmaker. Some of his stories were reported in the navigator’s professional journal “DR Ahead”.

Frank continued to enjoy membership in the American Geophysical Union (since 1948), the Distinguished Flying Cross Society, the Military Officers Association of America (life member), the Air Force Navigators Observers Association, and the Air Force Association. Frank’s last move was to Sierra Vista, Arizona, in April 2002. In Sierra Vista, he served as the President of the Arizona Cochise Chapter of the Air Force Association for the year October 2004 to October 2005. He also served as a weather “spotter” for the National Weather Service and attended the Sierra Vista Citizen’s Police Academy in the fall of 2008.

His military biography has been prepared for publication. Frank’s name is recognized at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

He felt himself slowing down but in his early 90’s he was still bicycling every day. At the onset of his 92 nd year he felt forced to discontinue cycling. What could have been a difficult time for him was made easier with the great help of his daughter, Cynthia, who moved from Texas to Sierra Vista in 2014 to assist him, and the help rendered by his wonderful neighbors.

Frank is survived by his son and namesake, Frank II, who married Mei-Ling, a former college colleague. Today Dr. Klein is the Founder and CEO of Assisting Children in Need Inc. He has two adult college graduate daughters, Tessa and Melissa, and two granddaughters Isabel and Natalie. He is also survived by his youngest daughter, Cynthia Klein, who is a retired FBI Special Agent. Her husband, Terry, a former Assistant District Attorney, succumbed to cancer in March 2009. Also surviving Frank is his stepsister, Mrs. Joan Held of Wauwatosa, WI (who remained loyal to her brother “Otto” all his life), his first daughter Nita’s husband, Everette Byrd, and their two sons, Scott and Steve Byrd, and their wives and families, and cousins in Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia. In 1997,

Frank lost his beloved younger brother Oscar Bruno, or “Ozzie,” who was a WWII bemedaled Bronze Star OSS soldier in Burma and later a career CIA official. Ozzie is survived by his daughter, Diane Klein.

Although eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Frank chose to be laid to rest at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery adjacent to the base of Fort Huachuca.

Arrangements were made with Jensen’s Sierra Vista Mortuary.

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Andrew Kunstman
   Posted Tue May 19, 2020
To the Klein family, I want to convey my sympathies to you all in the passing of Frank. It was my pleasure to be Frank's dentist while he lived here in Sierra Vista. I'm not sure he told me he was from the Milwaukee area as I grew up there too! He was a great patient and a very humble man, I had no idea of the extent of his military background. A true man that it was my pleasure to know! May God protect you in your time of sorrow.