Dale Burgess- ‘Country Boy’ and Decorated World War II Pilot

“I’m a country boy,” says Dale Burgess, 96, who resides at Glazier Commons, located at United Methodist Retirement Communities (UMRC)’s Chelsea campus. Dale grew up in The Great Depression near Shepherd, Michigan in Isabella County. His world view changed, though, with the onset of World War II.

In 1942, at age 20, Dale joined the U.S. Army Airforce, spending 15 months in active duty as a pilot in New Guinea and The Philippines in the Pacific Theater. Dale flew 131 missions, clocking a total of 452 combat hours and earning the rank of Lieutenant. Dale has three Oak Leaf Clusters, air medals he received for his combat hours.

Dale shared that the famous pilot, Charles Lindbergh, flew with them as a civilian, which was against Army Airforce regulations. “I visited with Charles a few times,” says Dale. “He taught the pilots how to reserve fuel for the long flights.”

His plane was named the “Betty Marie” – the name of his future wife whom he married upon returning to Michigan after the war. Betty was an elementary school teacher. Dale graduated from Michigan State with a degree in chemical engineering and became an Occupational Health Engineer for the State of Michigan where he worked for 35 years before retiring. Dale continued in the Air Force Reserve and retired at age 60 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Dale and Betty raised two children – a son and a daughter – and have one granddaughter. Dale and Betty were married for 63 years before she passed away.

The Burgesses made their home in Ann Arbor for the last fifty years. Dale is a long-time member of West Side United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor. He continues to attend services and Bible study (“I can always get a ride,” he says as several of his fellow church goers also call UMRC home). He also counts the offering money each week and helps with the church’s fundraisers, including parking cars at University of Michigan home football games. “These days I volunteer in-doors,” he grins.

This “country boy” has done a lot of traveling, including visits to Australia, England, and Scotland. Dale also enjoys playing games, like euchre and cribbage, and keeping up with the Detroit Pistons.

Dale keeps in touch with his fellow pilots. A few years ago at a reunion, an acquaintance of the group gave a gift of leather pilot’s jackets to each member, commemorating the 432nd Fighter Squadron stationed in New Guinea and emblazoned with Dale’s plane, the “Betty Marie.”