One of the Navy’s most respected ship handlers will be laid to rest Tuesday in Maryland.
Retired Capt. Albert Lee Kaiss died in his Hagerstown home on July 25 from natural causes. He was 78.
Although best known as the 20th and 23rd commander of the battleship Missouri, Kaiss served on numerous vessels after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1962.
They included the dock landing ship Alamo, the destroyer escorts Lester and Charles Berry, the destroyer Henry B. Wilson and the frigate McCandless, where he served as the executive officer.
The surface warfare officer commanded the destroyer Paul F. Foster and the Belknap-class destroyer leader and cruiser William H. Standley before taking the helm of the recommissioned battleship Missouri in early 1985, according to the USS Missouri Association.
The warship where Gen. Douglas MacArthur received Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, the “Mighty Mo” had been mothballed for nearly three decades, even languishing as a museum relic, before the Pentagon ordered it revamped to star in President Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship Navy.
Unfortunately, a heart condition temporarily forced Kaiss into other duties. He commanded the mission task element of the hospital ship Mercy and served as Naval Surface Force’s assistant chief of staff for warfare and tactics before getting cleared in 1990 to return to sea duty.
He took the helm of the Missouri again during the battleship’s final years of active service.
That included the Missouri’s pummeling of Iraqi targets with both Tomahawk cruise missiles and naval gunfire in 1991. It was the first time the warship’s 16-inch guns had been fired since 1953 during the Korean War.
Capt. Kaiss was the commander on March 31, 1992, who ordered his XO to “haul down the colors" in Long Beach, California, decommissioning the Missouri for the second time.
Two days later, Kaiss followed the Mighty Mo into retirement.
“He was generous,” his daughter Julie Laing told Navy Times. “His family always came first and his ship was second — even though he loved that ship, the USS Missouri."
A highly-decorated combat veteran of wars in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, his personal awards included multiple Legions of Merit and the Bronze Star for Valor. Kaiss was proud of his service, but he never bragged about it, Laing said.
“That’s what set him apart. He was always more about taking care of his crew than winning accolades. He loved to teach and he loved to solve problems," she said.
After retiring, Kaiss joined Scientific Atlanta and then a string of other companies so that he could mentor and train Navy officers in shiphandling and safety on the San Diego waterfront.
In a 2007 essay in “Proceedings,” the magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute, Kaiss urged the Navy to raise surface warfare officer training up to the levels enjoyed by aviators and submariners.
He voiced concerns that SWOs received limited bridge time at sea due to fuel restrictions. Shore-based simulators added only another 40 hours of training, he said. He feared their skills would deteriorate without practice and their qualification program was poorly defined and open to individual command interpretation.
Kaiss questioned whether the coveted “SWO badge has any meaning.”
In 2013 he retired from his civilian work and returned to Hagerstown with a new mission.
Although he already had earned master’s degrees from George Washington University, the U.S. Naval War College and National University, he felt he should return to Hagerstown Community College to pursue an associate’s degree.
A 1957 graduate of North Hagerstown High School, he’d started on the program but left to complete a business degree at Maryland.
“He loved to learn,” Laing said. “They offered to just give it to him but he said that he wanted to finish it.”
He was finishing a history degree when he died.
Preceded in death by his wife, Veronica (Resch) Kaiss, he is survived by daughter Julie Laing and son Andrew Lee Kaiss and grandsons Kelen, Cole and Charles.
He also leaves behind one of the nation’s largest milk bottle collections.
“He loved to hit the jackpot,” said Laing. “It was the thrill of the chase. And he loved the history of milk bottles.”
A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday, July 31, at 10 a.m. at St. Ann Catholic Church, 1525 Oak Hill Avenue, in Hagerstown. A burial service with military honors follows two hours later at Mountain View Cemetery in nearby Sharpsburg.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the USS Missouri Memorial Association in Hawaii.
Arrangements are being handled by the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home in Hagerstown.