DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
On Aug. 9, 1916, a child was born destined to become one of the most decorated aviators and Soldiers of the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. As an excited four-year-old, Dyess had his first opportunity to jump inside the seat of a barnstorming biplane passing through his hometown of Albany, Texas. This exhilarating joy fueled his passion to become a pilot someday. He was thrilled when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, and in May 1936 he jumped at the opportunity to fly when he entered cadet pilot training at Randolph and Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.
Throughout his entire life, Dyess was a star. He was a football star, a track star, a drama star – he was a star in practically everything he did. But his little sister, Elizabeth “Nell” Denman, elaborated that Dyess was not only a star, but inspired others to be stars – ones who would not, could not and did not think they could do it. Dyess would get them to do it anyway, alongside him, and they achieved the success they all deserved. This was ultimately one of his greatest legacies.
Dyess was stationed in the Philippines as the 21st Pursuit Squadron Commander, flying P-40s when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, and the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941. He led his vastly outnumbered pilots in many successful attacks against the enemy. Being that the Philippines are on the other side of the International Date Line, the attacks on the Philippines were the same day as Pearl Harbor Day.
Dyess, along with his beleaguered Soldiers gallantly defended the Bataan Peninsula located on Luzon Island, Philippines, from Dec. 8, 1941, to April 8, 1942. It was on April 8, 1942 when Capt. Dyess and 10 Soldiers he was leading were captured behind enemy lines. He survived the tortuous Bataan Death March and was held captive until his escape from the Davao Prisoner of War Camp at Mindanao Island, Philippines. On April 4, 1943, Dyess led the largest escape of POWs from the Japanese in WWII, a total of 12, walked right out the front gate and into the impenetrable jungle meeting up with the Filipino guerillas. Dyess is credited with killing 600 Japanese soldiers during his tour of duty in the Philippines.
After recovering his health in the U.S., Dyess was allowed to get back into the war, this time to attack the Germans in the European Theater of Operations. Sadly, on Dec. 22, 1943, Dyess’ P-38’s left engine jammed and caught fire. He chose not to bail out over the congested residential neighborhood of Glendale, California, but instead steered his flaming plane into a vacant corner lot in the neighborhood. His death save the lives of many families that were home for the holidays. Through his military career, Dyess was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, twice the Distinguished Service Cross, twice the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit. He was also awarded the Purple Heart, the Soldiers Medal, and the Gold Medal. In Sept. 2015, Dyess was awarded the Texas Medal of Honor. There is a current movement to have him posthumously awarded the United States Congress Medal of Honor which could be awarded by the end of the year.
Dyess Air Force Base, known as Abilene Army Air Field from 1942-1946 and Abilene Air Force Base from 1953-1956, was named after Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess on Dec. 6, 1956.