Lt. Col. William E. Dyess (left) reporting to Gen. MacArthur (second from right). Also pictured are two of his fellow escapees, Lt. Cmdr. M.H. McCoy (second from left) and Maj. S.M. Mellnik. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Nicknamed the "One Man Scourge," Capt. William E. Dyess exhibited remarkable courage, sacrifice and leadership not only during combat in the Philippines, but also after he was captured.
Commander of the 21st Pursuit Squadron, Capt. Dyess personally led his unit against the Japanese amphibious landings on Bataan. After engaging in bitter fighting for two weeks, Capt. Dyess led 20 of his men in a daring seaborne raid on Feb. 8 that wiped out a particularly stubborn group of Japanese entrenched in the seaside cliffs.
He flew aggressively against the Japanese whenever one of the few remaining P-40s on Bataan was serviceable. On March 3, 1942, he made three flights against Japanese shipping unloading supplies for the final push into Bataan. Remarkably on that day, he sank a 12,000-ton transport, seriously damaged a 6,000-ton vessel, sank two 100-ton motor launches and several loaded barges, along with a supply dump.
As Bataan was about to fall, Capt. Dyess chose to stay with his men rather than evacuate, giving his seat on the last plane out to the future president of the UN General Assembly, Philippine Army Col. Carlos Romulo. After surviving the horrors of the Death March and imprisonment, he escaped from his captors with several other prisoners in 1943. He met with Filipino guerrillas, participated in their activities for three and a half months, and left the Philippines in a U.S. submarine.
Capt. Dyess and his fellow escapees reported the Bataan Death March atrocities to General MacArthur. The American public first heard of the horrors of the Death March in early 1944 after the War Department allowed the press to tell Capt. Dyess' story.
While recovering from his ordeal in the United States, Lt. Col. Dyess anxiously awaited returning to combat, and began training as soon as he could. On Dec. 22, 1943, his P-38 caught fire while over a populated area. He selflessly stayed with his aircraft rather than bail out and allow the abandoned aircraft to potentially kill someone on the ground. While attempting to land the aircraft in a vacant lot, he died in the ensuing crash.
Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, is named in his honor.