The Greatest Act of Courage
Master Sergeant Leo P. Day, who had served 16 years in the U.S. Army and was then stationed at the Presidio, went out that evening after dinner.
He stood on the cliff overlooking Baker Beach and surveyed the scene with his binoculars.
To his right stood the Golden Gate Bridge and the majestic headlands of Marin. To his left, the posh neighborhood of Sea Cliff spread along the shore.
It had been an unusually hot day for May in San Francisco, and now, not surprisingly, two teenagers were swimming in the blue ocean waters just off the beach that sits just beyond the bay.
Then it happened.
"I trained my glasses on them and saw the boy thrashing about madly in a large circle of red, foaming water," Day later explained in Family Weekly Magazine.
But this story, which happened in 1959, did not start on the beach. It started at a San Francisco State fraternity dance where Leslie O'Neill met Albert Kogler. They were both 18-year-old freshmen.
She later recounted the event in a speech to students at Mercy, the all-girls Catholic high school that was her alma mater.
"I was wearing this (she fingered the gold cross on her necklace), and he asked me if I was Catholic," she said, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
"I said yes, and asked him what he was, and he said 'I don't know. Nothing, I guess.'