Ernest Saint Clair von Kleeck, Jr., was born in Darby, Pennsylvania, on 20 May 1901, son of Ernest St. C. and Amelie Catherine (Springman) von Kleeck. He was graduated from Baltimore (Maryland) Polytechnic High School and attended Johns Hopkins University (2 years) before his appointment to the US Naval Academy in 1921. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 4 June 1925, he subsequently attained the rank of Captain, to date from 20 July 1943.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1925, he served at sea until October 1928, with successive duty in USS Nevada and USS Toucey. He had brief flight training at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, and torpedo instruction at the Naval Torpedo School, Newport, Rhode Island, and on 13 June 1929 joined USS Flusser, later recommissioned USS Crowinshield. Continuing duty afloat, he served from March 1931 until May 1932 in USS Bernadou.
In June 1932 he returned to Annapolis for instruction in Mechanical Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School, and continuing the course at the University of California, Berkeley, California, was graduated with the Master of Science degree in May 1934. He then joined the battleship Utah, in which he served until 14 December 1935.
Assigned to USS Cummings for fitting out duty in February 1936, he joined that destroyer upon her commissioning on 25 November 1936, and served as her Engineer Officer until May 1938. He was next ordered to shore duty as Assistant Inspector of Naval Material, at Schenectady, New York, serving in that capacity until 1 December 1939, when he assumed command of USS Bancroft. He remained in that command until 27 June 1940, and from 9 August 1940 until 2 March 1942, commanded USS Blakeley.
On 7 March 1942, he joined USS Cleveland as Engineer Officer, and later became her Executive Officer. During the period of his service aboard Cleveland, he participated in operations off Casablanca in the North African Campaign; and after that cruiser moved to the Pacific Combat Area, in operations at Rennel Island; the consolidation of the Solomons; action at Kolombangara, New Georgia Group; the Treasury-Bougainville Operation; Marianas Operation (Saipan, Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the capture and occupation of Guam and Tinian); and the Western Caroline Islands Operation (Palau).
The Cleveland was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for service during the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, and he was entitled to the Ribbon for, and a facsimile of, that citation. He personally was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”, and the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, for heroic service as Executive Officer of the Cleveland. The citations follow, in part:
Legion of Merit: “For exceptionally meritorious conduct… during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area from October 30 to November 2, 1943. Under heavy fire from hostile shore batteries and air raids, (he) rendered invaluable assistance to his Commanding Officer in the initial bombardment of Buka Bonis and the first daylight attack on the Shortland Area…Throughout these actions, Commander von Kleeck’s accurate evaluation of the tactical situation and his sound judgment under fire contributed to the protection of our beachhead at Empress Augusta Bay and to the establishment of our land air forces on Bougainville Island.”
Bronze Star Medal: “For heroic achievement…in the initial invasion of Tinian, Marianas Islands, July 24, 1944. Observing one of our battleships on fire and sustaining repeated hits by enemy shore batteries, (he), momentarily the senior officer on the outer bridge, immediately issued orders which enabled his ship to commence engaging the enemy with a high, accurate volume of fire. By his accurate evaluation of the situation, he contributed materially to the silencing of the enemy shore batteries, thereby enabling the battleship to recover from the effects of a damaging surprise attack and a damaged destroyer to withdraw…”
Upon his return to the United States early in 1945, he was assigned duty in the Bureau of Ships, Navy Department, Washington, DC, where he served until 2 January 1947, when he assumed command of USS Henrico. After a year in that command he was ordered to duty as Inspector-Instructor of Naval Reserves at Dallas, Texas, serving as such until June 1949. A year’s duty as Assistant Chief for Personnel, Eight Naval District, New Orleans, Louisiana, preceded further sea duty as Commander Destroyer Squadron 18 from August to December 1950, and as Commander Destroyer Squadron 8 from January to August 1951. Since September 1951 he had been Reserve Coordinator for the Fourth Naval District at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In addition to the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal, both with Combat “V”, Captain von Kleeck had the American Defense Service Medal with star; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one star; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with seven stars; the American Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; and the China Service Medal.