On December 13, 1944, 1,619 POWs, mostly Americans, were loaded into the holds of the Japanese passenger cargo ship Oryoku Maru at Manila’s Pier 7. Due to their failing health, the horrible conditions in which they were crammed into the ship, and attacks by US bombers nearly 80% of them perished during the voyage to Japan.
This is an essay written by the grandson of Minter Dial, a Naval officer who did not survive.
Please also read, “Minter’s Ring: The Story of One World War II POW,” published at Smithsonian.com. The article quoted from Dial's last letter to his wife, Lisa:
On December 12, 1944, Dial wrote a letter to his wife—the only letter to reach her after his captivity: “Hug the children close and tell them I adore them. You too must keep brave! And I will. We will be together again—and have a life brimming with happiness. Until then—chin up! You are my life! My love! My all! Yours for always, Minter.”
The Last Ring Home
– A story of war, love and hope by Minter Dial
My grandfather, Minter Dial was born the son of a U.S. Senator from South Carolina whose fortunes were overturned by the Depression. After graduating from Annapolis Naval Academy in 1932, Minter met and married Lisa Porter, an aspiring actress from California, with whom he had two children. In 1941, now a Lieutenant in the US Navy, Minter was sent to the Philippines and was given the command of the USS Napa. After war broke out, the U.S. troops in the Philippines were overwhelmed by the Japanese and capitulated in May 1942. Minter was interred along with 25,000 U.S. servicemen captured on Corregidor and Bataan.
Having survived the dire conditions of prison camp for 2.5 years, Minter was boarded onto the unmarked Oryoku Maru passenger ship along with 1618 other prisoners. Attacked by U.S. airplanes, the ship was sunk on the morning of December 15th.
Mortally wounded, Minter reached the shore. As he lay mortally wounded on an abandoned tennis court in the arms of his friend Lt Douglas Fisher, his last wish was to give to his son his last physical possession, his Annapolis 1932 class ring. Fisher survived the ensuing 47-day journey that saw over 1200 men die; but he lost Minter’s ring.
In the summer of 1962, a Korean laborer, digging at a site outside of Incheon, north of Seoul, found a gold ring. He showed it to a colleague, Yi So-Young, who just happened also to be a driver for the USN Admiral George Pressey, in charge of the USN Pacific forces. When Yi told Pressey of the ring -- similar to the one that Pressey himself wore -- they darted around Incheon until they found the other laborer and retook possession of the ring. To Pressey’s utter astonishment, he discovered the ring to be that of his best friend from Annapolis. Both he and his wife had been usher and matron of honor at my grandfather’s wedding in California in 1934. The ring was then returned to my father, who was at the time stationed in New Orleans.
However, sadly, the ring was only in the family’s possession for 4 years. After having moved to Paris in 1966, the ring was stolen from our home. Attempts to find the thieves or the ring were fruitless.
The story of the ring was again dormant until a mistaken telephone call I received in 1992. I had just moved from New York to Washington DC to run my own company, when I received a telephone call from Ms. Wilson, a lady wishing to invite Minter Dial, my grandfather, to a high school reunion. Ms. Wilson—who was running the Western High School that Minter had attended in 1924-1928 in D.C.—miraculously ran across my information despite my not yet even having a home address.
From there, 9 years of research spanning four continents, with the aid of the Internet and active ex-POW organizations, I made 130 interviews in person of people who had known my grandfather and retrieved this story, including finding out how the ring made it from the Philippines to Korea.
Then, on September 11, 2001, I was again living and working in New York. With my office overlooking the World Trade Towers, I witnessed first hand the calamity and had several friends perish. With an evident parallel between Pearl Harbor and the WTC drama, I took solace in the story of his grandfather. As it happened, I was lucky enough to have my father visiting us from France and on the morrow of 9/11, I gave to him the manuscript biography, detailing all that I had uncovered about his father’s life, as a student, a husband, a Navy officer and as a prisoner. It was a moving evening, especially in light of the surrounding tragedy.
I myself sought to reevaluate my own values, to recognize the privileges that our generation has enjoyed and to bring to light and to thank those who fought and were not so lucky among the Greatest Generation.
To-date, I have spoken at schools and conferences and written many articles
about this story. I like to tell people of the sacrifice made by the soldiers
in the war, but also to remind us about how very lucky we are to be living with
so many resources and privileges, in a time of relative worldwide peace – even
if there are many hotspots and trouble on the horizon. Moreover, I think of the
fantastic opportunities that lie in the power of the Internet, to research and
connect with people around the world with such ease and speed. I have been to
Japan twelve times and have many Japanese friends. It has not often been easy
to tell this story to my Japanese friends, but I believe that, beyond a reminder
of how horrible war can be, this story is as much a personal story of
serendipity, love and courage. My father and I continue to uncover new sources
and information about Minter. And, one day, I still hope for the ring to show
The Oryoku Maru
painted by Mr. Kihachiro Ueda, a former Imperial Japanese Amy soldier who lost
his right arm during a combat. He learned to paint with his left hand and
produced many paintings of WWII merchant ships. This particular painting was
produced as a donation to the Subic Bay Historical Center after he had learned
about the dedication of the Hellships Memorial there in 2006.