Dr. Dwight Meyer Deter

An Associated Press news article was published May 30, 1943 in the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal stating that the wife of Dr. Dwight M. Deter of Austin, Texas had been notified by the War department that Lt. Col. Deter was a prisoner of the Japanese. Dr. and Mrs. Deter had been stationed at Corregidor and Lt. Col. Deter was later attached to Headquarters, Visayan-Mindanao Guerrilla Force, where Lt. Col. Deter served as a surgeon for the United States Army. Mrs. Deter had returned to the United States in May, 1941 and had last heard from her husband on April 6, 1942.

The United States Armed Forces in the Far East was formed in July, 1941 as Japanese hostilities were underway in other parts of the Far East. The USAFFE was comprised of both United States and Philippine forces. Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8, 1941, concurrently with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and began to land ground forces in Davao, Philippines on December 20, 1941.

The Philippines extended from Luzon Island to the north to Mindanao to the south. Corregidor Island is situated such that when fortified, it guarded Manila Bay on Luzon. In World War II there were several artillery companies located there with more than four dozen artillery installations. The battle for Corregidor had begun in earnest in early April, 1942 with Japanese forces attacking various Allied units of coastal artillery and ground troops. Corregidor had been attacked by the Japanese continuously from the air since December, 1941. The Japanese began their final ground assault in April, 1942 and the island fell in early May, 1942. The Japanese losses were estimated to be just over 2,000 dead or wounded and allied losses were estimated to be somewhat less than that. Allied prisoners have been numbered at 11,000 and were disbursed to various Japanese prison camps.

Lt. Col. Deter was serving with Headquarters, Visayan-Mindanao Guerrilla Force at the time of his capture. The Visayas are a series of islands between Mindanao and Luzon. Lt. Col. Deter’s exact locations were not precisely disclosed, but his group was already in service for several months prior to the fall of Bataan on April 11, 1942. With the fall of Corregidor, General Jonathan M. Wainwright ordered the surrender of all United States and Philippine forces on May 7, 1942. Three days later, General William F. Sharp ordered the surrender of the Visayan-Mindanao Guerrilla Force, making the estimated date of Lt. Col. Deter’s capture to be sometime during the month prior to May 10, 1942. On Lt. Col. Deter’s military citations, the date of April 10, 1942 is noted. This was also the day that Japanese forces attacked Cebu, where Headquarters, Visiyan-Mindanao Guerrilla Force was located. Accordingly, April 10, 1942 is assumed to have been the day that Lt. Col. Deter was captured. Many Philippine guerrillas and a number of United States military personnel declined to surrender and they continued to evade and resist the Japanese for the next two years as the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies. The heroic actions of the Philippine resistance were greatly influential in preventing total Japanese control of the Philippines, despite the enemy’s early manpower and supply advantages.

Dr. Deter was the son of career Baptist medical missionaries Arthur Beriah and May Barrett Scrygmeour Deter. Dwight was born September 12, 1904 to Dr. and Mrs. Deter while they were serving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was the second of six siblings born to the couple. Dwight earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco and his medical degree from Baylor University College of Medicine in May, 1929. Before his enlistment in the United States Army medical reserve corps, he served as a resident in the North Louisiana Sanitarium in Shreveport and was also on the staff of the Austin State School. He entered the reserve medical corps on July 16, 1929 as a first lieutenant and began his active duty as a captain on December 1, 1939. While on active duty, he received promotions to major and lieutenant colonel.

Image credit: Soldiers of the Wooden Cross, ed. by Frank Jasek, ISBN 978-1-4675-4358-3

Lt. Col. Deter was held in a Japanese prison camp at Davao, per published records, on the southern coast of the island of Mindanao. There he continued to provide medical services to the other prisoners and there are tributes to his treatment of fellow prisoners during their confinement.

As the war began to turn in favor of the Allies, the Japanese elected to remove their prisoners of war with the presumed ultimate destination being the Japanese mainland, where the prisoners were to be used in forced labor. In all, around 50,000 are believed to have been evacuated by sea, and about 10,000 of the prisoners are believed to have died at sea, including Lt. Col. Deter.

The ship on which Lt. Col. Deter was confined was named the Arisan Maru and had departed Manila on October 11, 1944. The ship was a 6,886 ton vessel and its construction included three holds, two of which were filled with prisoners. Over the next two weeks, her crew attempted to reach Formosa (modern day Taiwan). Survivors recounted the harsh conditions under which the prisoners were held. The Arisan Maru circled back at least once to the Philippines before being assigned to a group of twelve ships that made up Convoy MATA-30 that was to head north to Formosa on October 23, 1944. The Arisan Maru was not marked as being a prisoner transport vessel. As she sailed through the Bashi Channel, the convoy was spotted by a United States Navy “wolf pack,” one of several groups of two or more submarines operating in the area in search of Japanese convoys such as this one. In less than twenty-four hours, eight ships of the convoy were sunk, leaving four afloat. At 1700 hours, the crew of the Arisan Maru spotted a torpedo in the water that barely missed the ship. Seconds later another torpedo missed the ship. A third struck the transport on the starboard side near the Number 3 hold and the stern of the ship began to dip into the water. Witnesses stated that the Japanese crew severed the rope ladders and bamboo ladders to the holds where the prisoners were confined. The ship sank at 1940 hours. Her position was believed to have been 20.00N 118.44E and the nearest land was Quantung Province in China, a distance of 250 miles away. Neighboring Japanese ships picked up over a dozen Japanese crewmen but none of the prisoners, although a handful of prisoners miraculously survived.

Lt. Col. Deter was lost at sea and he is listed as killed in action. His name is enshrined on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery and Memorial Manila, Capital District, National Capital Region, Philippines. His medals, awards and badges include: Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal with Bronze Star, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Medical Badge.

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