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William Ash, Stranger Than Fiction / Nick Ehrhardt

William Ash, Stranger Than Fiction

Last month William Ash died at age 96, bringing to a close a life too strange to be made up.

As reported in his obituary in The Telegraph, the Dallas, Texas, native started his professional career at a young age, working to help support his family with odd jobs before saving enough to put himself through college. The Great Depression greeted him at graduation, so Ash took his diploma on the road, riding the rails in search of work and living in shanty towns. Ash left the country in 1939, after a fistfight with Nazi supporters in Detroit, and enlisted in the Canadian military to join the fight in Europe. As a Spitfire pilot in combat operations over Britain, Ash became something of a celebrity, now known as "Tex," and appeared in promotional materials aimed at enticing American men to follow his example and join the Canadian military.

After getting shot down over France, Ash managed to make his way to Paris, where instead of hiding he took to the streets as a tourist, soaking up the art and culture of the City of Lights until the Gestapo arrested him. Ash proved spectacularly unsuited to life as a prisoner of war, and made numerous daring escape attempts from the various camps where he was interned. He eventually escaped across an active battlefield following a forced march. Sadly, he learned that a group of his fellow POWs had been recaptured and executed on orders from Adolf Hitler. The story formed the basis of The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, because William Ash was truly stranger than fiction.

Read William Ash's full obituary at The Telegraph's website.