William E. Dyess

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William Edwin Dyess
William Edwin Dyess.jpg
Born(1916-08-09)August 9, 1916
Albany, Texas
DiedDecember 22, 1943(1943-12-22) (aged 27)
Burbank, California
Albany Cemetery
Albany, Texas
Allegiance United States
Service/branchU.S. Army Air Corps
U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service1937–1943
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Unit24th Pursuit Group
329th Fighter Group
Commands held21st Pursuit Squadron
Battles/warsWorld War II
 • Battle of Bataan
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Silver Star Medal ribbon.svg Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Soldier's Medal ribbon.svg Soldier's Medal
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart
Texas Legislative Medal of Honor Ribbon.svg Texas Legislative Medal of Honor

William Edwin "Ed" Dyess (August 9, 1916 – December 22, 1943) was an officer of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.[1] He was captured after the Allied loss at the Battle of Bataan and endured the subsequent Bataan Death March. After a year in captivity, Dyess 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.[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Born and raised in Albany, Texas, Dyess was the son of Judge Richard T. and Hallie Graham Dyess. He played football and ran track and field at Albany High School, and graduated in 1934, he attended John Tarleton Agricultural College in Stephenville, Texas, and graduated on May 18, 1936. He was a distant cousin of fellow World War II veteran Aquilla J. Dyess.[4]

Dyess underwent flight training at Kelly and Randolph Fields in San Antonio and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps in 1937.[5]:16 Promoted to first lieutenant and command of the 21st Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field, San Francisco, Dyess led the squadron to Nichols Field, Manila, Philippines, in November 1941.[5]:23


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.[5]:38–46

When the Bataan Peninsula fell to the Japanese, Dyess, as commanding officer, refused to abandon those of his squadron who could not be evacuated,[5]:65 he gave his airplane ("Kibosh") to another fighter pilot, Lieutenant I.B. "Jack" Donaldson, for last bombing run on April 9, after which Jack was ordered to fly it to Cebu, where he crash landed.[5]:63 Dyess also supervised the evacuation of Philippine Army Colonel Carlos Romulo,[6]:25 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, north of Mariveles, Bataan, and the next morning, he and the others who surrendered at Bataan began the infamous Bataan Death March,[5]:67–68 he was imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell and then, from June to 26 October 1942, at Cabanatuan.[5]:97,130 There, his men and he were routinely denied the rights of prisoners of war.[5]:130–131

Dyess and others were transported by ship, the Erie Maru, to the Davao Penal Colony on Mindanao,[5]:154 arriving November 7. After two months of planning and preparation, Dyess, along with 9 other American POWs, including Major Jack Hawkins, Austin Shofner, and Samuel Grashio,[5]:166 and two Filipino convicts escaped from Davao on April 4, 1943,[5]:170 it was 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;[7]:127 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, he was ordered to recuperate, in September 1943, at the Ashford General Hospital in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.[5]:11 From his hospital bed, Dyess worked with Chicago Tribune writer Charles Leavelle to tell the story of the atrocities and brutality his fellow POWs and he had experienced and witnessed while in Japanese captivity;[5]:11 the U.S. government, however, refused to release Dyess' story for publication on the grounds that it would infuriate the Japanese and risk the death of remaining American prisoners.[5]:9 The Tribune had to wait another four and a half months for the Secretary of War to grant release of the story.[5]:11–12

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,[8] lost an engine caused by a fire on take-off from Grand Central Airport. Dyess had a chance to abandon his troubled aircraft, but was flying over a heavily populated area and did not want to be responsible for any civilian casualties, he remained in his stricken P-38 and died while guiding it onto a vacant lot.[9]

He is buried in Albany Cemetery in Albany, Texas.[10]

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 twice and Distinguished Service Cross also twice. 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.

Military decorations[edit]

His awards and decorations include:

USAAF Wings.png  USAAF pilot badge
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Service Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster
Soldier's Medal
Width-44 scarlet ribbon with width-4 ultramarine blue stripe at center, surrounded by width-1 white stripes. Width-1 white stripes are at the edges. Bronze Star Medal
Width-44 purple ribbon with width-4 white stripes on the borders Purple Heart
Prisoner of War Medal
Bronze star
American Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze campaign star
World War II Victory Medal
Philippine Defense Medal
Texas Legislative Medal of Honor

U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg  Army Presidential Unit Citation

Philippines Presidential Unit Citation.png  Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation (Army Version)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Hero of Bataan" (PDF). Tarleton State University. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  2. ^ "One-man scourge: William E. Dyess". National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "Dyess: One-man scourge" (PDF). Air Force. December 2017. p. 64.
  4. ^ Smith, Perry (July 4, 2010). "Independence Day is an ideal time to remember an outstanding hero". The Augusta Chronicle. Augusta, Georgia. Archived from the original on July 8, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dyess, W.E., 1944, The Dyess Story, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  6. ^ Hunt, Ray C., and Norling, Bernard, 1986, Behind Japanese Lines: An American Guerrilla in the Philippines, The University Press of Kentucky, ISBN 0-8131-1604-X
  7. ^ Wolfert, I., 1945, American Guerrilla in the Philippines, New York: Simon and Schuster
  8. ^ December 1943 USAAF Stateside Accident Report, Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research, 2001.
  9. ^ US Airforce Fact Sheet: Dyess Name, Dyess Air Force Base: Fact Sheet, Retrieved Feb. 10, 2016.
  10. ^ Findagrave.com

External links[edit]