Born in Madison on September 19, 1917, Dale M. Leslie was a WWII hero. But before taking the leap to commit himself to serving his country, Leslie was like any normal student. He attended school in Madison and became a star athlete in baseball, football and basketball. He continued to soar high in his pursuit of education after graduating and attended the University of Florida on a scholarship from the Florida State Road Department. Realizing that war was approaching, Leslie entered Naval Aviation training after his college career in 1941. He went into the U.S. Marine Corps and flew fighter aircraft during WWII. Leslie was a Second Lieutenant in the first Marine Aircraft Wing. On September 27, 1942, Leslie showed fearless devotion, courage and selflessness while serving the Marine Corps. Leslie assisted an evacuating group of Marines surrounded by Japanese forces from a beachhead on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. With his plane flying low over the water, Leslie spotted the stranded Marines’ SOS signal on the beach and was able to lead rescue boats over. He didn’t stop there, though.
In addition to providing communications between the Marine ground force and rescue force, Leslie also protected one of the boats that was used as a shield between the enemy and rescue ships by strafing hostile gun emplacements, drawing the Japanese fire away from the boat with skill and precision. In addition, he initiated the retrieval of all the Marines attempting to swim to shore and ensured they were all picked up by the rescue boats. For these heroic actions, Leslie was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second most senior decoration for valor in combat. In November of 1943, Leslie was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was also awarded for his heroism at the Solomon Islands. The following day, a Japanese aircraft shot down Leslie, and, after parachuting to safety, he spent 40 days eluding Japanese soldiers. He was missing for over a month, living on lemons and coconuts just behind the Japanese lines on the Guadalcanal. Leslie was taken in by Catholic Priest Missionary Father DeKlerk before returning to the Marine base at Henderson Field in Guadalcanal. After returning home from the war, Leslie was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court in Madison in November of 1948, where he served in that position until 1980. Leslie died on August 4, 1998.
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1. Photo Submitted Dale M. Leslie served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross in the 1940s.