Lt. Colonel (ret.) Gene D. Kleese
Lt. Colonel Gene D. Kleese (retired) of Newnan, Georgia, passed away quietly in his home on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. He is survived by his wife and college sweetheart of 55 years, Barbara Murphy Kleese; and four children, Betsy Allen Marvin of Charleston, IL, Major Bryan E. Kleese (retired) of Sierra Vista, AZ, Sara K. Kleese of Dacula, GA and Suzanne Kleese-Stamps of Sharpsburg, GA. He also leaves behind 10 grandchildren.
Lt. Colonel Kleese was born in Washington, D.C. on June 22, 1937, to James G. Kleese and Ruby Lee Ridgeway Kleese. He attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR, where he received his degree in geology and was a member of the Army ROTC program. Upon graduating from college, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Field Artillery in the U.S. Army. He then was trained in Primary Helicopter School at Ft. Walters, TX and was assigned to the 504th Aviation Company in Furth, Germany. In Furth, Germany he flew as a helicopter pilot for the 4th Armored Division and served on ground duty for the 20th Artillery.
Gene Kleese’s army career continued through honorable assignments in Advanced Artillery and Air Assault Divisions in Ft. Bliss, TX and Ft. Benning, GA. He was then transferred to Ft. Rucker, AL. His most important assignments during his time as a top notch helicopter pilot were during his two tours of Vietnam in 1965-1966 and again during 1968-1969. He served in the 11th Air Assault Division / 1st Cavalry and was a distinguished member of the Blue Max team. Most notably he fought in the battle of Ia Drang, which was the first major battle between U.S. troops and Viet Cong.
Promoted to major, Gene Kleese returned from his second tour of duty of Vietnam. He soon moved with his family to Ft. Leavenworth, KS and was a student in the Command and General Staff College. In Ft. Leavenworth he was assigned as an instructor for the Department of Tactics and developed the training manuals for Army combat helicopter pilots. He was recognized and awarded the Legion of Merit for his work in Ft. Leavenworth. He moved again with his family to Ft. McPherson, GA and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During this stage of his career he led an effort in assimilating refugees from Vietnam into Ft. Chaffee, AR as they fled from the country to the U.S.
For his next assignment he moved with his family once again to Land Southeast NATO in Izmir, Turkey. In Izmir, Turkey he was assigned as the Secretary to the General Staff and led the effort to transfer leadership of the Turkish NATO headquarters from American to Turkish administration.
He attended Troy State University courses in Izmir and earned his MBA in Business Management. His final assignment in his military career was as Inspector General in Ft. MacPherson, GA and his main role was to repatriate American citizens from Canada after the Vietnam War. He retired with honors in 1979 where, during the course of his military service, he earned two Bronze Stars (two each, one with Valor), Meritorious Service Medal (three each), NATO Meritorious Service Medal, and Army Air Medal (26 each), Army Commendation Medal (four each), Vietnam Campaign Ribbon (two each) the Army Service Ribbon and the Overseas Service Ribbon (four each).
Gene Kleese was not about to sit back on his laurels after his retirement from the military. From very early in his adult life Gene found a passion for sports, especially baseball and golf.
He was especially proud to serve as Baseball Commissioner during the 1975-1976 season when the Old National Athletic Association in College Park, GA saw their teams win the Little League World Series. Upon retiring from the military, he opened up ProAm Sports, a sporting goods store with his wife, Barbara, in College Park, GA, Peachtree City, GA, and Fayetteville, GA. In their new venture, Gene and Barbara worked with several athletic associations providing uniforms and trophies as well as being active in the Old National Athletic Association as coaches to their children’s teams. Gene sold his businesses to a partner and then worked successfully with Bankers Life & Casualty Insurance and Merrill Lynch as a stockbroker. Ever the entrepreneur, Gene published a guide for public golf courses in Atlanta called “Gene’s Guide to Golf” where he reviewed and rated golf courses and their services. He had three hole-in-ones during his golf career. He finished his working life as an instructor at Clayton State College teaching Business Management and counseling college students.
In 2010, he authored and published a short memoir titled “Vietnam, My War” where he recounts his time in service as a combat helicopter pilot. He was happy to lecture and share his experiences with students from Newnan High School, Newnan, GA, as part of their studies of the Vietnam War.
Gene donated his body to the Emory School of Medicine for research upon his death. A memorial service will be held by his family at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 23 at the Sharpsburg, GA, home of his youngest daughter. Family and friends are invited to celebrate his life and remember his legacy.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to The Pat Tillman Scholarship fund for military athletic scholarships at http://pattillmanfoundation.org/donate/in his memory.