Edwin (Ed) Dyess was born on August 9, 1916 to Richard and Hallie Dyess. Ed and his sister Elizabeth grew up in Albany, Texas, and while in high school he played on the Albany football and track teams. However, his true love was flying, and he worked hard to pay for lessons from barnstormers. After high school, Dyess attended John Tarleton Agricultural College in Stephenville, where he was the ranking ROTC officer and student president. Graduating in 1936, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an Army pilot. He graduated from the advanced school at Kelley Field in 1937 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was then promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to be the commander of the 21st Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field in San Francisco.
In November 1941, Dyess, along with 25 other pilots of the 21st and 34th Pursuit Squadrons, came to the Philippines by ship. On December 8 the Japanese, fresh from their attack of Pearl Harbor, began besieging Clark Field and Iba. Dyess, stationed at Nichols Field, had been flying patrols all morning, and as he flew over Cavite Naval Yard and Clark Air Force Base, he was dismayed to see only smoke and flames. The third Japanese attack force on Clark Field demolished all of the P-40 planes, leaving Dyess' P-40 squadron the only remaining airpower.
When the Japanese attacked, Dyess and his 21st Pursuit Squadron, patrolling the now crippled Clark Field, were forced to land at the auxiliary landing strip. On December 10, Dyess and his men rallied to ambush Japanese bombers returning to Cavite. They ended up over Lingayen Gulf, where the Japanese were coming ashore.
Two weeks later, on December 26, Dyess achieved his first kill by taking down an Aichi Val divebomber. Then he took out a Zero the next day despite the Japanese plane's predominance in maneuverability. Dyess first pulled up behind the Zero, then turned to face it head-on and, although he was hit twice, he managed to blow the top of the Zero's engine off, causing it to crash. On New Year's Day, 1942, the U.S. Air Force moved deeper into Bataan, and Dyess' squadron was amalgamated into the infantry for the final battle following General MacArthur's signing of Field Order No. 4. Unfortunately, food had not been stockpiled, and the men were forced to exist on around 1,000 calories per day, compounded with the presence of various diseases and antiquated weaponry.
In the early morning hours of January 23, Dyess awoke to news that the Japanese had landed near his bivouac outside of Mariveles. Dyess went west to Quinauan Point, and his outfit was combined with the Philippine Constabulary Troops and the 803rd Aviation Engineer Battalion for the purpose of eradicating a group of Japanese soldiers in the area. With little training in the use of their weapons, the American forces struggled against the well-trained, well-equipped Japanese forces. Nevertheless, the Naval Defense Battalion secured Mt. Pucot and were able to expel most of the Japanese to Longoskawayan and Lapiay points.
At Quinauan Point, Dyess and the rest of the provisional battalions were initially able to prevent any Japanese advances. MacArthur finally ordered the Philippine Scouts to assist in driving out the Japanese, and after a victory at Longoskawayan Point, on January 28, more than 500 scouts came to temporarily relieve Dyess and his men. Within six days, however, they returned to the front and pushed the Japanese to an area along the edge of the point's cliff. Many of the Japanese committed suicide, and such was the case when the Japanese lost half of their 20th Infantry's 1st Battalion along with a convoy.
While Dyess and the other troops were trying to dislodge the remaining Japanese, he was told that General Pierce wanted men from the 21st Pursuit Squadron to rush the beach at Agloloma Bay. Thus on February 8 Dyess led what was most likely the first amphibious landing of U.S. forces against the Japanese in World War II. Dyess was to lead a squad to attack from the southern side of the Agloloma Bay inlet, with Lt. Jack Donalson coming in from the center. They began to fire on the enemy, but then Japanese divebombers appeared, and Dyess' men fled to shore to throw explosives into caves and foxholes while Dyess and Sergeant Cecil Ammons used Lewis guns to strafe the brush. Donalson and his men were also achieving success, winning the fight for Agloloma Bay and, essentially, the Battle of the Points altogether. This victory forestalled Japanese control of the Philippines for 100 days.
On February 13, 1942, Dyess and his squadron were reactivated as pilots and ground crewsmen and stationed at Cabcaben. By this time they had only five P-40s, which they engineered to carry a 300 or 500 pound bomb or six 30 pound fragmentation bombs. Dyess was next put in charge of the bombing mission of Subic Bay, and he ordered his fighters to fly to Talotag, which was covered with dense jungles. His next flight, on March 3, was a defense of Subic Bay, which was under Japanese invasion. Dyess' first bomb missed its target, but he strafed a transport, and his second bomb detonated in the middle of a barge group. He took out the warehouses and sank a barge as well, then reloaded with a 500 pound bomb, which he used to destroy a supply dump. He demolished a tanker and a destroyer escort. However, his was now the only P-40 left on Bataan; one had been shot down, and the other three had succumbed to unexpected tailwinds.
Nevertheless, parts taken from the wreckage were incorporated into the so-called "P-40 Something," and two P-35s were rummaged up so that Dyess and his squadron of four could attempt to repel the invading Japanese. Dyess was promoted to Captain and put in charge of operations in mid-March upon the retirement of Colonel Harold George. On April 8, Dyess was ordered to prepare his four aircraft to help in raiding a Japanese convoy from Cebu. Dyess told Lt. Donalson to take off in Dyess' P-40E "Kibosh" with fragmentation bombs to attack enemy bombers and to keep going on to Cebu. Donaldson made it to Cebu, and Captain Joe Moore took off in the P-40 Something while Captain O.L. Lunde and a second pilot left in one of the two P-35s. Captain Hank Thorne and Ben Brown left in the remaining P-35 at Dyess' orders, taking with them a third pilot and six fragmentation bombs. This left only the Candy Clipper, which had been repaired but not tested. Dyess put five pilots into it, as well as Colonel Carlos P. Romulo.
Those who were left on Bataan became prisoners of war following the next day's surrender and endured the Death March. He was imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell and then at Cabanatuan. He was taken to Davao Penal Colony on the hellship Erie Maru, arriving on November 7, 1942. On April 4, 1943, Dyess escaped with nine fellow American POWs and two Filipino convicts and joined the guerrillas. He and two others were taken to Australia in July by the U.S. Navy submarine Trout, and by September he was recuperating in a West Virginia army hospital after having been debriefed. His story remained unpublished until five weeks after his untimely death due to fears that it would anger the Japanese and thereby risk the cancellation of Red Cross relief supplies to POWs.
Dyess was recommended for the Medal of Honor, and he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross. He went back to flying Lockheed's P-38 at Burbank, California, where he was killed when his plane caught on fire on December 22, 1943 while he was on a training mission. He did not leave the aircraft but instead guided it to a vacant lot in order to save the lives of civilians on the ground.