William A. "Ironman" Lee, 98, a retired Marine Corps colonel whose combat career resulted in his receiving three Navy Crosses, the corps' highest award for valor except for the Medal of Honor, died of cancer Dec. 27 at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va. He received the awards for service in Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s. Col. Lee was a 17-year-old native of Ward Hill, Mass., when he enlisted in the Marines in 1918 and sailed for France to fight at the end of World War I. From 1927 to 1932, he served with the Marine Expeditionary Force in Nicaragua, taking part in raids on the camps of insurgent forces. Patrolling deep in the Nicaraguan mountains, he served alongside Marine legend Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, who coined Col. Lee's nickname after recommending him for a medal. Puller wrote, "In the days of wooden ships, Lee would have been an iron man." Col. Lee's three Navy Crosses, were surpassed by Gen. Puller, who received five. Col. Lee's other military honors included three Purple Hearts and two Medals of Valor. A marksman, Col. Lee excelled in rifle and pistol competitions after his return from Nicaragua. After assignments as a Marine gunner and leader of a howitzer platoon, he was dispatched to North China as a chief gunner with the "Horse Marines" mounted infantry. On the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Imperial Army troops captured Col. Lee and 200 other Marines in North China and held them prisoner for nearly four years. The prisoners were rescued after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Col. Lee spent a month recovering at hospitals in Hawaii, then returned to the Quantico Marine Corps Base, where he served as executive officer, plans and training officer and chief range officer. He was commanding officer of the Rifle Range Detachment at Quantico before retiring in 1950. In 1992, the Marine Corps named a $5.5 million rifle range at Quantico in Col. Lee's honor. At the ceremony, Col. Lee, then 91, fired an M-16 rifle and hit nine moving targets. Survivors include his wife, Anne Lee of Fredericksburg; four daughters, Beverly Karras of Falmouth, Va., Edith McMillan of Plano, Tex., Nancy Lee of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and Linda Sutton of Roan Mountain, Tenn.; three stepsons, William Shelton of Falmouth, Thomas Shelton of Blacksburg, Va., and Edwin Shelton of Hartwood, Va.; a brother; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.