The Medal of Honor for Texas WWII Hero Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess

This petition serves a vital mission to remedy a seventy-year-old injustice: to ensure that one of our country’s greatest, yet least-known World War II heroes, Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess, USAAF, the 2015 recipient of the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, is ultimately recognized with America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.  

Dyess, known as the “One-Man Scourge of the Japanese” because of his incomparable individual acts of heroism as a pilot, infantryman, Marine, prisoner of war and guerrilla fighter versus Imperial Japanese forces in the Philippines, deserves the Medal of Honor due to a staggering series of heroic exploits during a sustained period of remarkable, selfless service from 1941 through 1943 that is unparalleled in the annals of our nation’s proud military history.

Dyess personally led:

1) the earliest charge against Japanese aggression in aerial combat with the U.S. Army Air Forces over Luzon, Philippine Islands in December 1941;

2) America’s first amphibious landing of World War II at Agloloma Bay on Bataan in February 1942 (for which he received the Army’s second-highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross);

3) An audacious air raid on the heavily-defended Japanese base at Subic Bay in March 1942 (2nd Distinguished Service Cross);

4) The only successful large-scale Allied POW escape of the Pacific war (3rd Distinguished Service Cross), called the “Greatest Story of the war in the Pacific” by the U.S. War Department in 1944.  

Dyess achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel at the young age of 27. 

But the extent of Dyess’s heroism cannot be measured exclusively by his battlefield bravery.  Despite suffering from exhaustion, malnutrition and disease, Dyess flew countless evacuation, reconnaissance and resupply missions from the time period January-April 1942.  Near the end of the Battle for Bataan, when food was scarce, the pilot refused to accept special flight rations – as ordered by his superiors – without first receiving permission from his enlisted personnel.  He refused several opportunities to evacuate Bataan before the surrender and instead ordered others to go in his place. 

As a prisoner of war, Dyess remained conspicuously in command, presenting himself as a target for abuse during the infamous Bataan Death March to deflect attention from his men as well as sick and wounded comrades.  In prison camps, he employed his innate leadership skills and charisma, engaged in morale-building activities and endeavored to secure food and medical supplies in order to improve the living conditions of his fellow prisoners, in the process depriving himself of these essential items. 

When Dyess returned to the U.S. following his epic escape, he was not afforded a hero’s homecoming.  Instead, while suffering from what had yet to be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, he was muzzled by the U.S. Government and threatened with the loss of his career and criminal proceedings, compounding feelings of survivor’s guilt and causing severe emotional distress from his perceived inability to help his comrades in captivity.

In what would be his last, and perhaps greatest mission, Dyess partnered with the Chicago Tribune in a top secret fight against the government and wartime censorship restrictions to break the news of Japanese atrocities to the world.  Dyess never lived to know that his collective efforts changed the course of World War II.  

During a routine flight over Burbank, California On 22 December 1943, Dyess’s P-38 Lightning fighter plane began experiencing engine trouble.  Rather than bail out and let his aircraft careen into a heavily-crowded residential area or war plant, Dyess attempted an emergency landing on an empty street.  At the last moment, a lone car appeared, forcing Dyess to pull up and abort the landing.  The choice to save the unknown motorist’s life essentially cost Dyess his.  Though rapidly losing altitude, he miraculously crashed the plane into a vacant lot and was killed instantly.  For this final,  remarkable, unselfish act of heroism, Dyess was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but he instead received the Soldier’s Medal, symbolic of heroic action committed not in the face of an armed enemy. 

As a combatant in a lost, forgotten battle, a living reminder of America’s abandonment of the Philippines and a messenger whose first-hand testimony of that battle and its hellish aftermath was potentially poisonous to the Roosevelt Administration and the Allies' “Europe First” strategic policy, Dyess was denied the ultimate recognition he deserved by a powerful, vindictive president and Washington officialdom for punitive political reasons.  

But now, seventy years later, a mission is being undertaken to ensure that the memory of this hero’s extraordinary life and military service is enshrined in America’s national consciousness and that his name assumes its rightful place in the special pantheon of American military heroes who have been decorated with their country’s most prestigious award for valor.  

In honor of Dyess and his unit, the 21st Pursuit Squadron, our goal is to secure 21,000 signatures in support of this mission.  

It’s both a matter and a Mission of Honor.  

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