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Madison native receives Navy Cross for Valor in War World II

Jacob Bembry: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Capt. Dale Leslie received the Navy Cross in 1943 for action he took in the South Pacific during World War II. He was awarded the medal for “extraordinary heroism as a fighter pilot in assisting the evacuation of Marines surrounded by Japanese forces in Guadalcanal.”

Leslie, a native of Madison, joined the United States Marine Corps on Oct. 16, 1941, after attending the University of Florida, in Gainesville.

The commendation, which accompanied the medal, read: “For extraordinary heroism as pilot of an airplane assisting in evacuating a group of Marines surrounded by enemy Japanese forces from a beachhead on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Sept. 27, 1942.

“Flying low over the water, Second Lieutenant (Lt.) Leslie, with utter disregard for his own personal safety, successfully directed the rescue boat to the trapped Marines.

“Then, in order to protect one of the boats which had been placed as a shield between the enemy and rescue ships, he continually strafed the hostile gun emplacements, skillfully drawing their fire away from the boat.

“During these operations, having spotted a second man in the water, Second Lt. Leslie dropped a flare near him in order to attract attention and help affect his rescue, and when one of the ships loaded with Marines developed engine trouble, he directed a salvage boat to her assistance.

“His excellent airmanship, courage, and fearless devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Later Leslie encountered a Japanese Zero pilot while on a reconnaissance mission. The two pilots fired on each other and both planes went down, with Leslie’s being set afire. His gunner was killed in the skirmish.

“As soon as I saw we were about to crash, I bailed out,” Leslie told reporters in November of 1942. “I was about 700 feet up when I jumped, and I landed in the sea. When I swam close to shore, I saw that the land was just lousy with Japs. So, I swam offshore again and stayed there until dark – about six hours – then I came in again, crawled onto the beach, and made my way through the Jap lines. Thereafter, traveling by night and hiding by day, I tried to get back to my outfit, living on nothing but coconuts the while. After some days, I found a native dugout and took to the water again. I came to a deserted native village and tried to find the natives in the bush.”

“When they saw me, they yelled ‘Jap’ and ran.”

“But I yelled after them, ‘No, American,’ and they all swarmed out to meet me, and I had to shake hands with the whole tribe.”

“That’s what they think of the Americans – the Japs have mistreated them, you see. They took me to a missionary and he gave me a meal I’ll never forget. Boy, fried chicken and potatoes after a straight diet of coconuts. You can imagine how that tasted.”

Leslie had been in the jungles for 27 days, hiding from the Japanese, enduring numerous threats and surviving through enormous will, stamina, and skill. During his ordeal, he lost 40 pounds, but gained 14 of it back during a three-day stay at the missionary’s hut.

Leslie was later promoted to Captain and it was as a Captain that he received the Navy Cross in October 1943.

Dale Leslie entered politics and served as the Madison County Clerk of the Court for many years, defeating D.F Burnett in 1948. Burnett was an incumbent with 36 years of experience, but Leslie captured the Democratic primary on May 5, 1948, receiving 2,103 votes to Burnett’s 1,557 votes.

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