William J. Dallas was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1922. He was called into active duty in 1940 and then transferred to the Army Air Corps in 1942. He went through flight training and after receiving his wings as an Army Aviator Bill was assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy). The 303rd Group flew B-17 “flying fortress” bombers and it was one of the early arriving bombardment groups sent to England and assigned to the 8th Air Force.

On March 26, 1944, the 303rd Bomb Group sent 20 aircraft on a bombing mission over occupied France. That was the 128th combat mission for the group; they were to attack an Operation “Crossbow” target, that being a special missile launching site that the Germans had built at Wizernes, France in the Pas de Calais area.

Second Lieutenant Bill Dallas was co-pilot of aircraft #42-31929 in the group’s 427th Bomb Squadron. That was the plane, “Tennessee Hillbilly,” commanded by pilot 1st Lt. Charles W. Mars, and it would be the only plane lost during that 20-plane bombing mission. They went in at 21,000 feet and Bill Dallas’ plane took several FLAK hits between the Initial Point (IP) and the target during the bomb run. Eyewitnesses reported during debriefings after the mission, “The B-17 was hit just a few seconds before “bombs away,” it peeled off to the right, passing under the formation, and went into a shallow glide… Seven parachutes were seen to have opened before the plane nosed down in a half-spin, made a three-quarter turn, then exploded in mid-air about ten kilometers northeast of St. Omer. Then an eighth parachute came out and opened after the blast. Although aircraft parts were all around it the canopy did not appear to have been damaged.”

Bill Dallas described what happened to PATRIOT BULLETIN this way, “We were nearly through (the bomb run) when suddenly hit by large caliber FLAK. A burst in front of the aircraft wounded me in the arm and leg. It also severed a finger from the pilot (1Lt. Mars) whose hand was on the throttle when the throttle assembly was hit. That same burst also wounded the Navigator in the nose of the aircraft. The B-17 also sustained damage from other hits in the rear and middle of the plane. Engines were on fire on both the left and right wings when the crew bailed out just before the aircraft blew up in the air.”

Although eyewitnesses observed a total of eight parachutes, nine airmen had survived the loss of the “Tennessee Hillbilly,” those being 1LT Charles Mars, 2LT William Dallas, 2LT George Avanites, T/Sgt Conrad Kersch, S/Sgt Raymond Foster, S/Sgt Eddie McGinnis, S/Sgt Charles Dunlap Jr., S/Sgt Albert Senechal, S/Sgt Delbert Nivens and S/Sgt Vincent Angione. All of them were in this accompanying photo that was taken two months earlier of Lt Mars’ crew of aircraft #42785.

T/Sgt Conrad Kersch alone among the crew successfully evaded capture. The others, including 2LT Dallas, were taken prisoner by the Germans and they spent the remainder of the war as POWs.

Bill described some of his experiences, “I looked really beat up when processed in and photographed as a Stalag prisoner. That was the beginning of more than a year as a POW. As the Soviet troops were nearing the Stalag at the end of the war, our guards pulled out the day before they arrived and abandoned the camp. The Gestapo office files had been left intact and I secured my file and photo. The prisoners were milling around, uncertain what to do next. Many of the men determined to wait where we were, others did not trust the Russian Army to get us back into U.S. custody. I determined not to wait, and with one other man started out walking west in the hope of running into American or British troops.

We were on the road for days, but I don’t recall exactly how long it took for us to pass through the Soviet controlled area. We encountered Russian troops often. Sometimes they eyed us suspiciously, but fortunately none of them made any move to detain us and we just kept going. We were easily recognizable as Americans and I do remember being given food along the way by German civilians. That was extraordinary generosity coming from people who didn’t have enough for themselves and who were facing a far more uncertain future than we were at the time. In one of the towns we passed through we were approached by several very frightened girls asking us to protect them from Russian soldiers. We agreed to this appeal to our gallantry, but unwisely so as it turned out, because some soldiers came by almost immediately after that and started to forcibly take the girls into a house. When I made a move to intervene one of the Russian troops turned and pointed his automatic weapon (a Soviet model that looked like a Thompson sub-machine gun) at my belly. He didn’t say a word, but he didn’t need to. We beat it out of there, hustled on out of town and continued on our way. That was the closest call we experienced before eventually reaching safety.”

After returning to U.S. control and back for duty, Bill Dallas remained in the Air Force and he continued on flying status. He served as pilot of Search and Rescue aircraft and retired with the rank of Major at Carswell Air Force Base at Fort Worth, Texas on November 30, 1960.

Upon retirement he enrolled at Texas A&M University and earned a Civil Engineering degree in 1964. He then entered into a second career as an engineer with the Texas Highway administration and retired there after 20 years service.

He was a member of the United Christian Church in Austin and he joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart as a life member shortly after Chapter 1919 was chartered. Bill Dallas passed away at age 85 on April 25, 2008, being survived by: a sister, Mary Smith; his wife, Allyne and their four children, Suzanne, Cathy, Ric and Carye; four grandchildren, Diana, Sylvia, Stephen and Ashlye; three great-grandchildren, numerous other relatives; and a host of friends. This month, PATRIOT BULLETIN renders reverent salute to the memory of Patriot William “Bill” J. Dallas.