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Ahee

A celebration of life and duty


A dual birthday celebration for World War II vet


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William Leslie holds the blue, yellow, orange, green, white and red striped World War II Victory Medal.

July 03, 2014
William F. "Bill" Leslie celebrated his 93rd birthday July 2, two days before the nation's birthday, July 4.

The World War II veteran is proud to have a birthday close to July 4.

"I've felt very, very fortunate where I live. I'm always grateful for that," he said.

In recognition of his service, Leslie was honored June 17 with the World War II Victory Medal, awarded to those who served between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.

Leslie said he would have to make room to hang the new medal beside the Air Medal with four Bronze Oak leaf clusters, the Good Conduct Ribbon, the European/African/Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with four Bronze Battle Stars and the Overseas Service Bar.

It was only recently Brian Leslie, his son, who shares the same birthdate as his father, said he heard about the opportunity for World War II veterans, who had not previously received the Victory Medal, to apply for such. It's a medal earned for Leslie's service in the U.S. Air Force during which he witnessed many of his colleagues die. If Leslie had turned his head to the left he won't be here to talk about his time in the Air Force that began after listening to the radio.

"I used to play golf with some guys in Chandler Park," Leslie began his story, "and go to one guy's place to shoot pool. I heard a broadcast and thought 'What the hell am I doing?'"

He tried to join the U.S. Marines in 1942. "My eyes weren't strong enough. The Navy the same thing."

Leslie enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in September 1942 and was schooled at Fort Custer, Willow Run and Sheppard Field, Texas. Though trained as a pilot, the Air Force changed his specialty to engineer and gunner in 1943, sending him to gunnery school at Wendover Field, Utah. From there he was assigned to the 445th bomb group, 700th bomb squadron and sent to Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. As a B-24 engineer, it was Leslie's duty to make sure the airplane's mechanics were working.

"The engineer made sure there was still air in the tires. The air speed at take off was 105. If you take off and a tire blew, (we) would have to cancel the mission," he said.

Once the plane was checked out, he climbed aboard with the other eight crew members and became the top turret gunner with a .50 caliber machine gun. The turret was surrounded by a glass dome.

He was the technical sergeant stationed at Tiberham Airfield, Norwich, England, about 100 miles north of London. One mission in which he had a brush with death was to fly over the Rhine River.

"We were taking a lot of flack from the ground troops from Germany," he said from his easy chair in Grosse Pointe Woods. "A flack hit the turret (on the left side). My shirt was open and glass fell down my shirt. I radioed to the pilot, 'I've been hit. Those dirty rats hit me.' And I didn't swear in the air. If it had been on the right, I wouldn't be here. My head was turned to the right."

That was one of the 35 bombing missions Leslie was part of between August 1944 and January 1945 in the unit using the heavy bombers that could fly long-range missions. Runs Leslie and the crew took part in were to Oldenburg, Saarbrucken, Dessua, Brunswick, Katsuke, Mainz, Hannover, Ulm and Koblez, Germany, and Strasbourg, France.

Another mission in which Leslie was involved was related by his son, Brian.

In September 1944, Leslie was part of a crew included in the unit of 35 bombers participating in the bombing run to Kassel, Germany. Twenty-eight B-24s were shot down, three crashed and the remaining four returned to home base. Of the more than 300 crew members sent out that day, 32 survived and Leslie was one of those because of the duty that day. One plane was kept over the channel to relay messages back to base. It was Leslie's plane with the assignment that day.

Leslie said when the survivors landed, the cooks came out to offer them shots of whiskey. "We lost a lot of bombers," he said.

"I did what was expected of me and lived through it," Leslie said of his time in the Air Force. "There's no need to reminisce."

He was honorably discharged in June 1945. Leslie, whose wife, Marion, died in 2010, has six children, 14 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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