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This profile was last updated on 5/25/03  and contains information from public web pages.

William E. Dyess

Wrong William E. Dyess?


21st Pursuit Squadron

Employment History

  • Army Pilot


  • John Tarleton Agricultural College
14 Total References
Web References
Abilene Reporter News: Local, 25 May 2003 [cached]
Dyess was on the cover of the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine in January 1944, which ran his whole book as a series depicting his POW experiences during the Bataan Death March.
Click here to view a larger image.Photos Courtesy of Dyess Air Force Base
Lt. Col.William Edwin Dyess, center, receives the Legion of Merit at March Air Force Base a few weeks before he was killed.
William Edwin Dyess lived as he died: heroically, in a too-short life punctuated by selflessness, the horrors of war and the majesty of flight.
At his own peril, Dyess evacuated the pilots of his squadron during the siege of Bataan and was left to face a year of captivity in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.In the same spirit, Dyess would die crash-landing a burning plane, steering it away from a Los Angeles neighborhood.
"He was always very thoughtful and very thoughtful of the underdog," said Elizabeth Nell Denman, Dyess' 82-year-old sister and the sole survivor among his immediate family.
"Son, if she can be got, we'll get her," Dyess said, recalling his father's words, to Charles Leavelle, who helped pen his war memoir The Dyess Story.
Dyess attended John Tarleton Agricultural College in Stephenville - now Tarleton State University - where he majored in pre-law.After graduation in 1936, Dyess pursued his dream and eventually received training at Randolph as well as Kelly Field.
Dyess arrived in Manila 19 days later.Within a few days, Japanese planes swooped down on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and other free nations in the Pacific, and the United States had entered World War II.
Dyess' book chronicles his war exploits, capture and escape from the Japanese military in the Philippines.By all accounts a reserved man, Dyess shied away from the limelight, but fought government censors to get his memoir published while the war was going on.Government officials feared the POWs would face retribution once the camp conditions were publicized.
Almost daily, enemy planes strafed the Philippines, which wasunder the auspices of the United States.In defending Subic Bay against enemy attack, Dyess would become known worldwide as the "one-man scourge" of the Japanese; a newspaper correspondent heard the tale and wrote the story for the New York Times.
Using "Kibosh," his P-40 fighter rigged to carry a 500-pound bomb, Dyess blew up a 12,000-ton ship, beached another and sank two 100-ton boats.
Befitting a humble man, Dyess was hesitant about retelling his handiwork at Subic Bay.
As commander of the 21st Pursuit Squadron, Dyess busied himself trying to evacuate his pilots.After all had found seats on planes fleeing south, Dyess elected to stay behind with the enlisted men.
Dyess and the remaining GIs headed north, toward advancing Japanese troops, in hopes of joining other U.S. ground crews.Within two miles from the start of their journey, they met face-to-face with three enemy tanks.
Dyess was among the thousands captured and forced to endure a six-day, 85-mile trek through the heat of the blinding tropical sun and unexpected torrential storms.The horrors of the Bataan Death March foreshadowed the future for Dyess and the thousands of American and Filipino POWs.
On the way to a prison camp farther inland, the Japanese captors systematically denied the prisoners food and water.On rare occasions, the prisoners were given a scoopful of dirty rice to eat.Although the route of the march passed through streams and aquifers, the Japanese allowed the men to drink only from the wallows of water buffaloes, Dyess wrote.
Severe beatings for minor infractions were common.The weak and dying POWs were often left to die on the dusty national highway, if they didn't fall victim to the Japanese bayonet or a passing tank.
Dyess was first interned in the O'Donnell prison until the Americans were relocated to the Cabanatuan camp, where he remained until October 1942.
At both camps, the Japanese operated a black market, charging as much as $5 for canned food.Prisoners fortunate enough to squirrel away money before being captured could supplement the meager rice gruel and weak stews given at the chow line.Dyess, who kept his money in tight rolls between his toes, at times used some of his cash to buy smuggled tins of fish to nourish a couple of dying GIs, to no avail.
Hunger and disease ravaged the camps.Dyess fell ill to jaundice and dengue fever.Through it all, he wrote, he kept up his strength by, of all things, talking about food.Talk of family was too painful, he wrote, and so those emotions were "bottled up within."
He dreamed about eggs and the big Hereford steaks of Shackelford County.Waiting for his return in Albany, his parents saved up their ration points so they could kill a fatted calf for his homecoming, newspaper reports of the time indicate.
Despite the threat of starvation and illness, the prisoners had moments of gallows humor.
Talk of food "started talk about the probability we wouldn't know how to act at splendid functions after the war," Dyess wrote.
Dyess let a hand of poker determine his fate, according to his memoir.He lost the card game and in late October 1942 was placed on a cargo boat to an unknown destination.Anywhere other than Japan held hope for escape, he reasoned.
As the boat slipped out of Manila Bay, it changed course and headed south.After a few days, Dyess and about 1,000 other men disembarked at Davao, about 500 miles from Manila, the capital.
The POWs were trucked north to the Davao Penal Colony, which held convicted murderers.When the Japanese took over the facility, they promised to free the felons, for their crimes were committed against a commonwealth that no longer existed, the Japanese suggested.
They never carried through with the promise, Dyess noted, which fomented hatred against the new captors.
The prisoners began hatching escape plans, and Dyess eventually teamed with two other men.
In this scenario, Dyess would have served as the pilot, Spielman said.
About a month passed, Dyess wrote, and they had gained the trust of their captors.
Dyess and two other prisoners met with Fertig and gained passage onto an Allied submarine that was dropping off supplies.
After reaching safety, Dyess and the two prisoners were sent to Washington, D.C., to meet with the top brass at the War Department.
The men wanted to publicize their treatment behind enemy lines to shame Japanese leaders in hopes of gaining better treatment for the prisoners.They were muzzled.Despite the ban, newspapers and magazines began a heated bidding war to publish the exclusive story.
Dyess wanted maximum exposure for a series of articles.He chose the Chicago Tribune as the publisher.The Tribune promised an estimated daily audience of 40 million with its newspaper and its association of 100 other dailies.
Tribune reporter Leavelle helped write the tale while Dyess was in his hospital bed under orders to recuperate in a West Virginia resort.
Even at his hero's welcome at a public ceremony in his hometown, Dyess was warned by officials that he could say nothing about his experiences in the Pacific.Instead, he told the crowd he had been in Shangri-la the past two years.
After pressure from Dyess, the Chicago Tribune and the other ex-POWs, the War Department relented, and the story was serialized in newspapers throughout the nation.
Dyess would not live to see the publication of his story.
He clamored to get back to the Pacific theatre, but superiors refused his request.Instead, he would be allowed to fly combat in Europe.
On his first day back on duty on Dec. 22, 1943, Dyess was killed while training on the P-40 Lighting, a plane that fascinated Dyess because it was the Army's fastest and most heavily armed fighter.As the fighter taxied for takeoff, witnesses said, the plane struggled before becoming airborne.
Dyess tried to circle back for a landing, but did not make it.A witness told Army investigators Dyess could have landed safely on a vacant lot, but the pilot was trying to avoid a passing motorist.Other witnesses said he could have bailed from the plane, but the flight path was near a neighborhood.
As Dyess tried to maneuver away from a populated area, the plane hit the steeple of a Catholic church and crashed.
Dyess was only 27 years old.
Dyess was to visit "The Brat," an affectionate nickname for his sister, around the time of his death.
William Edwin Dyess
Originally established as Abilene Army Air ..., 13 Nov 2011 [cached]
Originally established as Abilene Army Air Base in 1942, Dyess was named for a Texas native who survived the Bataan Death March, Lt. Colonel William Edwin Dyess.
Dyess has remai9ned a strategic Air Force location since.
Among the others whose stories are ..., 14 Sept 2010 [cached]
Among the others whose stories are told is that of army pilot William E. Dyess, who was married to late News-Gazette publisher Marajen Stevich Chinigo. Dyess survived the death march and imprisonment and later escaped. After he made his way back to the U.S., he collaborated with an American newspaper on a multi-part series about what happened, sparking outrage from coast to coast. It's an incredible story.
Among the prisoners was army pilot ..., 7 Jan 2010 [cached]
Among the prisoners was army pilot William E. Dyess. With a few others, Dyess escaped from his POW camp and was among the very first to bring reports of the horrors back to a shocked United States. His story galvanised the nation and remains one of the most powerful personal narratives of American fighting men.
William E. Dyess was born in Albany, Texas. As a young army air forces pilot he was shipped to Manila in the spring of 1941., Shortly after his escape and return to the United States, Colonel Dyess was killed while testing a new airplane. He did not survive long enough to learn that he had been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Texas Heritage Trails : World War II, 12 Mar 2010 [cached]
William E. Dyess was born in Albany, Texas. As a young army air forces pilot he was shipped to Manila in the spring of 1941. When the Japanese invaded the Phillipines with overwhelming power, U.S. - Filipino forces surrendered and unwittingly placed themselves at the mercy of a foe who considered itself unimpaired by the Geneva Convention. Dyess was among the prisoners of war forced to march in the Bataan "Death March. With a few others, Dyess eventually escaped and was among the first to bring reports of the prisoner-of-war horrors back to a shocked United States. Shortly after his escape and return to America, Colonel Dyess was killed while testing a new airplane. He did not survive long enough to learn that he had been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. Colonel Dyess is the namesake of Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene, TX.
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