William Ash (November 30, 1917 — April 26, 2014)
Mr. Ash graduated with honors from the University of Texas, then wandered as a hobo, bouncing from boxcar to boxcar, job to job. He worked at a bank operating an elevator. (An acquaintance asked if his employer knew about his academic success. “Yes,” he replied, “but they’ve agreed to overlook it.”) In 1934, as a cub reporter for The Dallas Morning News, he gazed on the bullet-riddled corpses of Bonnie and Clyde.
Disappointed to have missed the Spanish Civil War, he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to battle Hitler. (The United States was neutral at the time.) Reaching Detroit in early 1940, he walked across the Ambassador Bridge to Canada to enlist, giving up his American citizenship.
He found he loved to fly, a delight that ended abruptly when six German fighters shot him down near Calais on France’s northern coast.
His first escape attempt as a prisoner of war involved hiding in a shower drain. Two weeks’ solitary confinement followed. He nonetheless found the act of escape exhilarating, despite — or because of — the danger. He loved to take risks.
“If he saw a big red button, he had to push it,” Mr. Foley said.
Excerpted from the New York Times