The next time you are feeling low and sorry for yourself you should read the story of Ed Dyess and his companions during WWII. Afterward, believe your circumstances won’t appear so grim. He is the man whose name was given to the Air Force base near Abilene, Texas. As we all know often those federal facilities are named after someone who was in politics or had political connections, but sometimes they are named after those who truly should be remembered for their example of endurance and bravery under the most trying of circumstances.
He came from a modest background and was an Army Air Corp pilot stationed in the Philipines at the outbreak of the War. His squadron was in the fighting from the beginning and was part of the retreat all the way to Bataan. By late spring of ’42 the fighting had been going on for months and the hope of any reinforcements was growing dimmer. The men were realistic and while hopeful discerned that they were not going to face a good ending to that battle. Near the end of the fighting he had one remarkable day when he used his plane to attack a Jap flotilla landing on the western side of the peninsula. He used jerry-rigged clamps to carry one 500 lb. bomb. He made three different sorties that day and did considerable damage to the Japs. Those exploits came only days before the formal surrender. His attacks made everyone feel good to finally do something on the offense rather than the constant retreating they had gone through.
Days later the order came to surrender. He along with thousands of others were part of the Bataan Death March as we called it but the guys referred to it simply as “The Hike”. There is not need to repeat here the indescribable brutality of the Japs during that march. He and the others were taken to prisoner camps on Luzon. Again, the beheading, starvation and daily random violence visited upon our men begs description. He endured that for 6 months and then volunteered to move to another camp along with hundreds of others to Mindanao for work. They all agonized over the choice. Many of the men believed that moving would only be to a worse situation but others believed that nothing could be worse than what they were confronted with on a daily basis at Camp O’Donnell as it was called. The grave area was filling up quickly and each believed it was only a matter of time before they ended up there.
Dyesss and 700 hundred others were transported to Camp Davao on Mindanao. It was located inland and was an island of relatively dry and open land in the middle of a very thick and foreboding jungle and swamp. Conditions there were marginally better because they could pilfer some fruit while on work detail and there were Filipinos nearby who occasionally could sneak a few items to them. The emphasis is on the “marginally”, the brutality and near starvation did not end. After a few months Dyess and others began to seriously consider the prospects for escape. This was a complicated decision both practically and morally. The Japs had a policy in place of assigning men to groups. It anyone from a group escaped then all the others remaining in the group would be shot. This had happened at Camp O’Donnell so there was no doubt of the willingness of the Japs to follow through. But Dyess and some of the others believed it was important to get out and let the US public know exactly how their sons, brothers, and husbands were being treated by the Japs. Most of them also had a burning desire to get back into the fight to avenge all their fallen comrades. That may seem hard to believe in our air-conditioned world of comfort but it was a palpable passion with these men.
A plan was formalized. They had to be careful even with their fellow prisoners to keep it very secret. Because of the Jap policy of reprisal against those remaining, they were legitimately concerned that some of their own fellow prisoners would turn them in to prevent the escape attempt. After a couple of months of preparation they made their move and were successful in leaving the prison area. They didn’t have to climb fences or move through locked doors. This was a real Bridge on the River Kwai situation, the jungle and swamp were the real bricks and steel that kept them prisoners. Walls and fences weren’t necessary. But there were lookout towers and guards with guns who would have shot them on the least suspicion without hesitation. In all there were ten of them. Mostly they were officers but two enlisted men were with them. Marines, Army and Navy were represented along with the Air Corp.
They moved through the swamp. It was very hot, humid, wet and the leeches and mosquitoes and sharp cogon grass cut and harassed them every step of the way. It seemed endless especially for men who were in very bad shape physically. About halfway through the trek in the swamp one of them wanted to go back. A couple of others felt the same way. That they would die for sure in the swamp. But they managed to pull themselves together and they literally all prayed together and gathered new resolve. During their last night they heard and saw gun fire from a battle not far away. It had to between guerillas and the Japs. They made for that direction.
This will be continued…..refer to “Escape from Davao” by J. Lukas for all the details. Freedom didn’t provide the immediate “voice” the escapees had hoped.
“Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right–a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.” Abe Lincoln www.olcranky.wordpress.com