||Albany, Texas native William Edwin Dyess (b. 1916) graduated from John Tarleton Agricultural College and became an aviation cadet at Randolph Field, San Antonio. Dyess went to the Phillipine Islands as commander of the 21st Pursuit Squadron of P-40 aircraft.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and invaded the Phillipines, Dyess led successful attackes against Japanese shipping in Subic Bay, with few operational planes, and served as an infantry commander during the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942. He was taken prisoner and faced the grueling Bataan Death March that resulted in the loss of thousands of American and Filipino lives. Despite the malnutrition, disease and torture the captives faced in Japanese prison camps, Dyess survived. On April 4, 1943, almost a year after his capture, he and 11 other men escaped, making their way through hostile territory. They connected with a guerrilla group who put them in touch with a U.S. submarine that took them to Australia. Dyess debriefed with the War Department and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. After Dyess returned home, publication of his stories in the Chicago Tribune provided invaluable information on conditions in Japanese prisoner of war camps that altered world opinion.
Promoted to Lt. Colonel and recuperated from his wartime ordeal, Dyess returned to flying. He died on December 22, 1943, when the new P-38 he piloted caught fire over Burbank, Ca., and crashed. His wife, Marajen, published his personal war accounts the next year as The Dyess Story, and he was the insipiration for the acclaimed play Men of Bataan (1943). Highly decorated for combat heroism and leadership, Dyess was buried in Albany (35 mi. NE). In his honor, Abilene Air Force Base was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in 1956. (2004)