The escapees met up the next morning with Filipino guerillas. There were some tense moments as the guerillas grilled them. They had heard rumors that the Japs had Germans with them as secret agents to seek out and expose the guerillas. It took a while but they were convinced of the bona fides of the Americans. They were fed, and fed some more. They loved the eating. It was like paradise to them. Arrangements were made to take them to the northern coast of Mindanao and there they might be able to contact US forces and be extracted. This additional trek lasted a few weeks and had it moments of terror as they knew the Japs were constantly looking for them and although the guerillas were excellent fighters and had a “bamboo” intelligence network, the strain was intense. They made the coast after a couple of weeks. Along the way they got a short ride in a truck that had been rigged to run on alcohol. A reminder of how creative people can be when faced with a serious challenge since gasoline was virtually none existent except for the Japs.
They met and American near the coast who was part of the guerilla operation and was assigned to that area of the island as a local commander. He was very suspicious of the escapees and made them answer lots of questions before he believed them. One of the men had managed to keep his graduation ring from Annapolis and that helped. They split up and two of them were selected to go see the overall commander of US and guerilla troops on Mindanao. Another long and dangerous trek and they didn’t like leaving their c0mrades behind after having gone through so much. They did make the trip and were met again with suspicion and a pronounced indifference. The “general” there had been a major at the outbreak of the war in Manila and one of the men recognized him. The general was very slow to communicate with MacArthur’s headquarters in Brisbane. The weeks dragged by. The reports of the Japs getting closer were more frequent and they escaped capture again a couple of times by a whisker. Dyesss joined them later after another harrowing jaunt through the backwaters of Mindanao with the Japs always close by. Some three months after their escape in April of ’43 the three were picked up by a US sub in July and returned to Brisbane. They were not exactly given a hero’s welcome. They were fed and treated but spent their time in isolation and being debriefed. Their immediate calls for another rescue sub to get their companions went unheeded.
After more than a month they were transported back to the US but they were very restricted. Their story was classified and top-secret. They were essentially only allowed to let their families know they were back and well. Dyess fudged his orders and did see his wife at the Chicago airport for 30 minutes on his way to Washington. There the men were subject to even more debriefing. All three made repeated calls for making the story known so the American public would know exactly what was happening to the loved ones captured by the Japs. Finally the other were extracted by sub from Mindanao but it took two more trips to get them. One in September ’43 and the last in November of ’43. One of the men remained to build an airfield for future Allied use with the help of the guerillas.
As always with these things the word slowly did spread that prisoners had escaped and were telling a horror story of their year as Jap captives and the treatment of our prisoners generally. Two of the men were threatened pretty sternly with possible loss of rank and even court-martial if they didn’t keep quiet. Dyess wanted his story told. Finally he worked with the Chicago Tribune. The Trib had a history with FDR and was willing to go to the mat. But the whole episode got hung up in bureaucratic snarls and delays. The Administration wasn’t too anxious for the public to realize what had happened to the men left on Bataan. Some argued that it would make things even worse for the remaining prisoners. It was one delay after another. All the while the men were under strict orders to not discuss their captivity with anyone. Soon the word was out tha the Trib had the story and they put pressure on the Administration during the Fall of ’43 to release it. Ultimately FDR personally signed an order to keep the entire episode under wraps until further notice. The Censorship board and the Office of War Information couldn’t agree on a united policy and some in the media and the men were threatened with prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.
Dyess had a commanding presence, his was the dominant personality of the group plus he was a genuine hero during the battle of Bataan. He became disgusted with the matter and the constant delays and excuses. All the men felt very strongly about those left behind, the men they had suffered with for a year before their escape. They believed that through secret radios and the guerillas the men still in prison camp would learn something of it one way or the other. Just the fact that they had succeeded would be a boost to their morale. Dyess was assigned a new role as a fighter squadron commander and began his training in a new plane, the P-38 Lighting. When everything was still up in the air about their story and it was still suppressed he went in December of ’43 for a routine training mission. His wife and he were having a party that night. He flew out of the Burbank airport. You may have been through there yourself at some time. He crashed not for from Olive street. Cause was never known with certainty, perhaps faulty gas. The entire town of Albany, Texas turned out for his service. He died without ever having to chance to tell his story publicly.
to be continued…..
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