Another Dyess Story Of Extraordinary Heroism

Posted by on Jul 13, 2014 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

By Perry Smith

With the death last week of 97-year-old Louie Zamperini there is renewed interest in one of the best books of the last decade, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. A major portion of this bestseller is devoted to the terrible torture that Zamperini endured while he was a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II. Zamperini told his story after gaining his freedom in the summer of 1945. However the first person to tell the story of Japanese atrocities was an Army Air Corps pilot named Ed Dyess. Like the Louie Zamperini story, the Ed Dyess story is both multifaceted and fascinating.

There is a question that comes up quite often when the heroic life of Augustan Jimmie Dyess is discussed. Is Dyess Air Force near Abilene Texas named for Jimmie Dyess? The answer to that question in No.

Dyess Air Force Base is named in honor of W. Edwin Dyess of Texas. Like Jimmie Dyess, Ed Dyess fought against the Japanese during World War II. Also, like his distant cousin Jimmie, Ed Dyess fought heroically. Finally, like Jimmie Dyess, Ed Dyess did not survive the war.

At long last the Ed Dyess story has been told and told well. Ed Dyess was the recipient of two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldiers Medal. To remind, the Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest award for valor.

Brought up in a small town in West Texas, Ed Dyess became an officer in the US Army Air Corps prior America’s entry into World War II. By the summer of 1941, Dyess was a fighter pilot and the commander of a squadron of P-40 aircraft. Ed Dyess and his unit arrived in the Philippines just two weeks before Japan attacked the Philippines.

During the Japanese invasion Ed Dyess flew combat missions until all the airplanes in his squadron were either shot down or put out of action. Although untrained as an infantryman, Ed Dyess led his men in a highly successful mission against an entrenched Japanese position on the Bataan Peninsula. This operation was the first successful American amphibious operation of World War II. It was on this mission that Dyess earned his first Distinguished Service Cross.

When a few airplanes were found, Dyess became a combat pilot again. On a bombing mission he destroyed a number of Japanese ships and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. Soon after the bombing mission there were no more serviceable aircraft to fly. Dyess once again fought as an infantryman until he was captured. He endured the terrible agony of the Bataan Death March and, as a prisoner of war, spent a year of absolute deprivation in two Japanese prison camps.

In the Spring of 1943, a year after he was captured, Ed Dyess and ten of his fellow POWs did the impossible. They escaped from a penal colony which the Japanese had deemed escape proof. After two days slogging their way through a treacherous swamp, they made contact with some pro-American partisans who led them to safety.

A US submarine took Ed Dyess and two of his fellow escapees to Australia. Upon reporting to General Douglas MacArthur and telling his story, Ed Dyess was sent back to the United States to give a full debriefing to officials there.

Although Ed Dyess had written a detailed description of the terrible acts of the Japanese that he had witnessed first hand, it was not until early 1944 that permission was granted to the Chicago Tribune to publish his story. In the meantime, Dyess was killed in a training accident as he prepared for combat in the P-38.

A documentary, now available in DVD format, on the life of Ed Dyess has recently been produced by John Lukacs. Lukacs is the author of the excellent book about Dyess and his fellow POWs: Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War. In his new DVD, entitled 4-4-43, Lukacs has devoted his full attention to the Ed Dyess story.

Containing World War II footage as well as testimony by those who were with Ed Dyess during those desperate months more than seventy years ago, this documentary is fascinating. An official selection of the 2014 GI Film Festival, the DVD is available for purchase on the film’s official website, At this website, interested individuals may also join the “Mission of Honor” to petition the government to reconsider Ed Dyess’s worthy candidacy for the Medal of Honor. This petition documents and thoroughly explains Ed Dyess’s courage, character and compassion.

Major General Perry Smith, USAF (ret.) assisted Mark Albertin in the production of the DVD, Twice a Hero: The Jimmie Dyess Story. His email address is Web

[This column appeared in the Augusta Chronicle on July 13, 2014]

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