Virgil D. Deets

Virgil Duane Deets
620 30 54
Nora Springs, IA
Father, Mr. Benjamin Franklin Deets
1/27/1942 – 3/1/1945
Operation Torch USS Hugh L. Scott Corpsman HA1c Ship Torpedoed
Roi-Namur D/1/24 Corpsman PhM3c
Saipan C/1/24 (MG Platoon) Corpsman PhM2c WIA
Tinian C/1/24 (MG Platoon) Corpsman PhM2c
Iwo Jima C/1/24 (MG Platoon) Corpsman PhM2c KIA
Silver Star, Purple Heart with Gold Star
Pharmacist’s Mate, Second Class

Virgil Deets was born on November 16, 1919. His parents, Benjamin and Anna, raised an enormous family on their farm in Cerro Gordo, Iowa; Virgil was the sixth of a brood that would eventually include twelve children.

Virgil left the farm to enlist in the Navy in January, 1941. He elected (or was selected) to undergo training as a hospital corpsman, and had just completed the complicated course of instruction when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The country was now at war, but Deets would have to wait to get into the action.

In the fall of 1942, Hospital Apprentice First Class Virgil Deets reported aboard the USS Hugh L. Scott, a troop transport recently acquired by the US Navy. The Scott was soon combat loaded with military equipment and a contingent of soldiers; after a period of intensive amphibious training, she departed American waters, bound for action. Once safely at sea, her destination was revealed to soldiers and sailors alike–they were headed for Morocco, to take part in Operation Torch.

By 12 November, Deets was feeling a bit more battle-hardened. The Scott unloaded her infantry on 8 November, but had to withdraw to safer waters due to a naval battle off Casablanca. Three days later, as they returned to the transport area at Fédala to unload their cargo, a German U-Boat got through the protective screen and sent three American ships to the bottom. The Scott’s crew spent all night at their battle stations, and all hands wanted to get the unloading completed as quickly as possible.

They weren’t fast enough. A little after 1700 hours, tremendous explosions rocked the Hugh L. Scott from stem to stern. Two torpedoes from the U-130 struck her starboard side, and the transport burst into flames. She foundered within minutes, taking 59 of her crew with her. One of the men plucked from the sea was Virgil Deets; he is recorded aboard the USS Thurston as “survivor of the USS Hugh L. Scott” on 14 November.

Living through torpedo attack was enough to put anyone off sea service, and Virgil Deets was no exception. After returning to the States and taking his survivor’s furlough, he was assigned to Field Medical School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina–the corpsman from Iowa was headed for service with the Fleet Marine Force. Assigned to the First Separate Battalion (Reinforced) in February, 1943, he quickly became known as “Doc Deets” to the machine gunners of Dog Company’s Third Platoon.

Deets was advanced in rank to Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class on July 1, 1943. He trained with the battalion through the remainder of the year before treating his first real casualties on the island of Namur on February 1-2, 1944. He was rewarded with a promotion to Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class on April 1, and served through the battles of Saipan and Tinian with the machine gun platoon of Charlie Company.

Deets [right] with PFC John “Blackie” Poggioli at Camp Maui in the spring of 1944.

Doc Deets landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. He worked to treat his Marines for wounds and combat fatigue with his customary skill; machine gunner Glenn Buzzard was one of the men who received the corpsman’s attention.

I had this finger torn up somehow. They doctored it, wrapped it, and it got to smelling and I wondered what the hell the stink was. Infection! I took off the bandage and I just left it bare open. Deetz [sic] the corpsman would dress it occasionally. They dressed us every day if you were wounded. They checked you every day; they’d get behind a stump where you couldn’t get shot and looked at you and put sulfa powder on, whatever, and kept us going.

– Glenn Buzzard, quoted in By Dammit, We’re Marines by Gail Chatfield, pg 65.

There would come a day when Doc Deets couldn’t pull a wounded comrade behind cover. On March 1, 1945, Charlie Company joined in the attack on Iwo’s infamous Meat Grinder complex. The frontal attack was a fiasco; within minutes of jumping off, several Marines were dead and others were downed, calling for a corpsman. One man fell within Deets’ line of sight, in the middle of an open field. Despite shouted warnings from his comrades, Deets ran out into the field to try to treat the wounded man. Dodging fire all the way, he had just reached his buddy when a Japanese round tore through him. For this final act of gallantry, which cost him his life, Virgil Deets was recommended for the Silver Star.

Mason City Globe Gazette 9 December, 1946.
Mason City Globe Gazette 9 December, 1946.

Virgil Deets was buried on Iwo Jima; on March 18, 1949, his remains were reinterred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Photo courtesy of Marnie Weeks.

3 thoughts on “Virgil D. Deets

  1. I was just surfing places with the Deets name and came across this. Virgil Duane Deets was my dad’s brother. He died before I was born. Seeing this just gives me goose bumps. this is a great memorial to all these people who served our country.

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