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
...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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
let a hand of poker determine his
fate, according to his
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
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.
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
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.
would not live to see the publication of his
clamored to get back to the Pacific theatre, but superiors refused his
would be allowed to fly combat in Europe.
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.
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.
was to visit "The Brat," an affectionate nickname for his
sister, around the time of his
...William Edwin Dyess