William Dyess

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This article is about the U.S. Air Force officer. For the American diplomat, see William J. Dyess.
William Edwin Dyess
William Edwin Dyess.jpg
Nickname(s) "Ed"
Born (1916-08-09)August 9, 1916
Albany, Texas
Died December 22, 1943(1943-12-22) (aged 27)
Burbank, California
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held 21st Pursuit Squadron
Battles/wars World War II
 • Battle of Bataan
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Cross

William Edwin "Ed" Dyess (August 9, 1916 – December 22, 1943) was an officer of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. He was captured after the Allied loss at the Battle of Bataan and endured the subsequent Bataan Death March. After a year in captivity, he escaped and spent three months on the run before being evacuated from the Philippines by a U.S. submarine. Once back in the U.S., he recounted the story of his capture and imprisonment, providing the first widely published eye-witness account of the brutality of the Death March. He returned to duty in the Army Air Forces but was killed in a training accident months later.

Early life and career[edit]

Born and raised in Albany, Texas, Dyess attended Albany High School where he played football and ran track and field. He graduated from high school in 1934 and from John Tarleton College in Stephenville, Texas, in 1936. He was a distant cousin of fellow World War II veteran Aquilla J. Dyess.[1]

Dyess underwent flight training at Kelly and Randolph Fields in San Antonio, Texas, and was commissioned second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps. Promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to command the 21st Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field, San Francisco, Dyess led the squadron to Nichols Field, Manila, Philippines, in October 1941.

Bataan[edit]

The 21st Pursuit Squadron was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group which together with the 19th Bomb Group suffered heavy casualties during the opening of the war with Japan in 1941. Flying P-40 Warhawks against superior Japanese types, Dyess maintained his unit's morale in the face of staggering losses during the Battle of Bataan. When his squadron ran short of aircraft, Dyess transitioned to an infantry officer, serving in this capacity during the Battle of the Points.

When the Bataan Peninsula fell to the Japanese, Dyess, as commanding officer, refused to abandon those of his squadron who could not be evacuated. He gave his airplane ("Kibosh") to another fighter pilot, Lieutenant I.B. "Jack" Donalson, allowing Donalson to escape to Australia. Dyess also supervised the evacuation of Philippine Army Colonel Carlos Romulo, a close friend of General Douglas MacArthur who would survive the war and would later serve as President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Dyess was captured by the Japanese on April 9, 1942. Later that day, he and the others who surrendered at Bataan began the infamous Bataan Death March. He was imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell and from June to October at Cabanatuan Concentration Camp where he and his men were routinely denied the rights of prisoners of war. Dyess and others were transported by ship, the Erie Maru, to the Davao Penal Colony on Mindanao, arriving November 7. After two months of planning and preparation, Dyess, along with nine other American POWs and two Filipino convicts escaped from Davao on April 4, 1943. It would be the only large-scale escape of Allied POWs from the Japanese in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Dyess and his group spent several weeks evading pursuit, then joined a group of guerrillas for several months. The group decided to split up, with seven joining organized guerrilla forces in northern Mindanao. Dyess and two others were evacuated by the U.S. Navy submarine Trout to Australia in July 1943.

Upon reaching the United States in August, he was thoroughly debriefed on his experiences as a POW by high-ranking military brass and ordered to the military hospital at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From his hospital bed, Dyess worked with Chicago Tribune writer Charles Leavelle to tell the story of the atrocities and brutality he and his fellow POWs had experienced and witnessed while in Japanese captivity. The U.S. Government, however, refused to release Dyess' story for publication on the grounds that it would infuriate the Japanese and risk the cancellation of the delivery of Red Cross relief supplies to American POWs still under Japanese control. There was also added speculation[citation needed] that Dyess' story was in actuality suppressed by both a Pentagon and White House fearful that an infuriated American public would demand a greater prosecution of the Pacific War (the United States and its allies were operating under a "Europe First" strategic policy).

Death and legacy[edit]

Promoted to lieutenant colonel, Dyess was assigned to fly P-38 Lightnings in preparation for a return to combat. On December 22, 1943, his aircraft, P-38G-10-LO Lightning, 42-13441, of the 337th Fighter Squadron, 329d Fighter Group,[2] caught fire while on a training mission over the highly populated area of Burbank, California. He remained with his burning aircraft despite ample opportunity to bail out in order to guide it to a vacant lot at 109 Myers St, Burbank, saving countless civilians on the ground. He is buried in Texas.

Almost one month after his death, the Chicago Tribune finally received permission from government censorship offices to release the deceased aviator's story on January 28, 1944. The story ran in serial form for several weeks and was picked up by over 100 American newspapers. According to Leavelle, it was the biggest story of the war since Pearl Harbor. Published in book form in 1944, The Dyess Story (later retitled Bataan Death March) became a bestseller.

Among other commendations, Dyess received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1957, Abilene Army Airfield was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in his honor. His personal papers are archived at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and the special collections archive at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

See also[edit]

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