Dyess, William Edwin (1916–1943)

By: Martine Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1994

William Edwin Dyess, World War II flier, was born on August 9, 1916, in Albany, Texas, the son of Judge Richard T. and Hallie (Graham) Dyess. He graduated from Albany High School and attended John Tarleton Agricultural College (now Tarleton State University) in Stephenville, where he graduated in 1936. After graduation he received pilot training at Randolph and Kelly fields in San Antonio and a second-lieutenant's commission. He was then assigned to Barksdale Field, Shreveport, Louisiana, and later promoted to first lieutenant and commander of the Twenty-first Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field, California. Dyess was sent to Nichols Field, Manila, Philippines, in October 1941.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and began assaults on Bataan and Corregidor, Dyess was thrust into combat in the Asian Theater as commander of all flying squadrons on Bataan. On March 3, 1942, in Subic Bay he sank a Japanese ship and damaged shore installations. A New York Times reporter called him a "one man scourge of the Japs." As the enemy closed in, Dyess refused evacuation and remained with his men in the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, the American forces surrendered to the Japanese, and Dyess became a prisoner of war. He survived the horror of the Bataan Death March and imprisonment at camps O'Donnell and Cabanatuan and the Davao Penal Colony. At Davao, Dyess and several other prisoners escaped on April 4, 1943. They contacted Filipino guerillas who led them to the submarine Trout on July 23.

After evacuation to Australia and a hero's welcome in the United States, Dyess briefed the War Department on Japanese warfare and confirmed the enemy's brutality to POWs. After staying in an army general hospital in Virginia to regain his health, Dyess was promoted to lieutenant colonel and resumed flying on December 22, 1943. He was killed that day in Burbank, California, attempting an emergency landing and was buried in Albany. Dyess, a Presbyterian, was survived by his wife, Marajen (Stevick), and his parents. During his life he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, and the Silver Star. Soon after his death he was nominated for the Medal of Honor and was posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal. Abilene Air Force Base was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in his honor in December 1956.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Time Periods:

  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martine Anderson, “Dyess, William Edwin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 29, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dyess-william-edwin.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994