Highlights from December 1943

For those of you that joined us late or are just here to catch up – here are the highlights from December, 1943. Tomorrow Willis will report back to his assignment in Long Beach and the letters will resume.

December 2, 1943

Posters on the West Coast. December 1943.

Embroiled in the midst of a terrible war, fear had gripped the United States and was manifesting itself in the attitudes people had toward people of Japanese heritage.  Willis clearly expresses how he feels about this the December letter after he’d written a detailed account of the most important days of his life.  Here’s an excerpt:

I’m so sorry to hear about the response to gifts for the Japanese. I can understand, for I see it and hear it from morning till night. A lot of cars, homes, and store windows carry a large sticker which says in large red letters, “No Japs in California after the war is over.” And to think we are supposed to be fighting for freedom for all people. I’m continually hearing terrible talk concerning the Japanese, and when I get a chance, I ask the persons some questions about the final outcome of such thoughts and ideals.

For the rest of the post: http://achaplainatwar.org/december-2-1943/

December 20, 1943

Willis in full marching gear for maneuvers. 1943

While they were not in combat, the men that Willis served certainly had challenging conditions to deal with.  The rains and mud and monotony of conditions was a strain on the mens’ morale.  This is just a precursor for the trials he will face while in the South Pacific. Here is an excerpt:

It has been raining most of the day and at present is really pouring. I noticed in this morning’s paper that they are beginning to worry about the possibility of a flood. As I told you in yesterday’s letter our filed positions are terrible, mud shoe top deep and the dugouts flooding. Miserable living to say the least. And what even makes it harder is the fact that the men just sit hoping something will happen. The trying living conditions wouldn’t be so bad if the men could feel they are doing something. As you can see it is a real problem to keep the men’s morale good. 

For the rest of the post: http://achaplainatwar.org/december-20-1943/

December 26, 1943

Willis makes it abundantly clear the many problems that drinking has caused the men.  He recounts a troubling incident from Christmas Eve when a man from Headquarters got drunk, took a jeep, hit a man and then threatened to shoot others.  What a way to spend the holidays.  Here is an excerpt:

Willis with the two Mexican men that he developed a friendship with.

A man from headquarters Christmas Eve had been drinking and took a jeep out of our motor pool, sped past the guard without being identified and while driving around in this condition ran into a sailor, injuring him fatally. He managed to get back to headquarters. Took his rifle and was threatening to kill himself or anyone who tried to get near enough to take it away from him. He was still drinking some from a bottle he had in his pocket.

Here is the rest of the letter: http://achaplainatwar.org/december-26-1943/


Highlights for November 1944

For those of you who have only started to read recently, here are the highlights from November  1943:

November 8, 1943

Fighting the fires in Topanga Canyon – 1943. Image from Los Angeles Public Library.

While Willis was stationed in Long Beach, California, a wildfire broke out and ravaged the countryside.  The troops stationed in the area were called in to help and 130 homes were destroyed.  It was one of the worst California wildfires in decades.  Sounds like they had the same problems as today. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

Yesterday was a most difficult day for most all of our men were called out early in the morning to fight a fire which is still raging in the Topanga Canyon and has extended itself to the Malibu beach, over 130 homes have already been destroyed in the canyon besides hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of timber and other property.

Here is the link to the rest of the letter: http://achaplainatwar.org/november-8-1943/

November 19, 1943

Long Beach California

Along with holding services on Sundays, visiting the men at their gun positions, going on hospital rounds and being an intermediary for the community, Willis also served the men who had been arrested and were awaiting trial. He shares a story about a man who had gone AWOL and over the intervening weeks he revisits this man several times.

He has been A.W.O.L. four times and a week ago was caught with a woman in a hotel in Long Beach registered as man and wife. Well, I talked frankly with him about such things, and he said he was sorry etc., and found out during the investigation that the woman was married to another.

Here is the link to the rest of the letter: http://achaplainatwar.org/november-19-1943/

November 26, 1946

Written by Willis – “Left to Right: Mr. Holly, Mrs. Holly, Harry Janisch, Miss Laura Pettigrove.

While Willis was unable to travel home to Sarah for Thanksgiving, he was able to spend it with relatives of his father and his dear friends, the Hollensteiners.  The speed at which Willis was able to make such close friends was a trait that marked his entire life.  Even people who’d only met him a few times allowed them into their deepest confidence.  Here is a piece of that letter:

We had a fine visit, then on the way back we stopped in La Meta to see an uncle of my fathers (my grandmother’s brother) who is retired, he is a grand old man and we also had a grand visit. We got back to Hansen’s around 2 o’clock and had a nice little lunch. Then I left for Hollensteiner’s where I had a most wonderful time.

Here is the rest of the letter: http://achaplainatwar.org/november-25-1943/


Highlights from October 1943

For those of you who have trouble keeping up with all the daily letters, here are the highlights from October 1943:

October 1, 1943

Southern California Defenses. Unpulbished image from three part series published on Jan. 15-17, 1942. Scan from original neg. The military would not allow units or locations to be identified. Photo by Paul Calvert/Los Angeles Times

Willis arrived in Long Beach, California in late September of 1943.  It took him a while to become acquainted with the men and figure out what to do with his job.  It is easy to forget that there was great fear of being attacked in 1943 by the Japanese and Willis served the men who were in charge of the anti-aircraft guns and the searchlights:

A snippet from the post:

This is as near the real thing as we have in this country. They are so camouflaged that you would never be able to find the positions. Two of the services will be held in the dugouts beside the guns. This only lacks (?) gunfire to make like the real thing up on the front lines.

Read the rest of the letter here: http://achaplainatwar.org/october-1-1943/

October 5, 1943

Fort MacArthur Military Hospital. San Pedro, California. 1943.

One area of of familiarity for many people was Willis’ love for visiting the sick in prison.  He did this with great regularity and you can see how it began in the army.  For many, this would have been a difficult process, but he truly enjoyed it.

Here is what he said:

Immediately after dinner, my assistant and I left for Fort McArthur where the men of our unit are in the hospital.We called on 23 men. What an experience. As I walk down the wards of beds looking for our men, I sometimes think I’m dreaming. As I walk by the beds of those men who are able to see, I always smile and speak and they seem to enjoy it. I often think I’d like to know their needs, but time forbids, and besides, they have two or three chaplains assigned to the hospital. All I can say is, thank you Lord for this privilege.

The full post: http://achaplainatwar.org/october-5-1943/

October 15, 1943

One of the men from the batteries after church service.

As a chaplain, Willis wasn’t required to do a tremendous amount of work that required physical exertion – but he chose to do so.  Surprisingly, he loved it and volunteered every chance he got.

From the 15th:

I picked up a part of the infantry outfit and advanced with them right up to the Douglas Airfield. I enjoyed it very much. I looked like I had been through a coal mine when I got here to Headquarters. We had advanced about 2 1/2 miles through brush, weeds, oil wells, ditches, junk piles, bean fields and almost anything you can think of, crawling on our stomachs. Advancing by the duck waddle in fields of corn etc. Our actual traveling distance was much further because we had to zig-zag and do every thing imaginable to not be observed by the guards.

Read the rest of the letter here: http://achaplainatwar.org/october-15-1943/


October  21

Willis at the Pacific shore. 1943.

Among the many responsibilities, Willis chose to visit the men in the jail.  One man in particular Willis focused on in his letters.  A man who had gone A.W.O.L. and had been captured and jailed.  Willis shares the love of Christ with the man, who accepts Jesus.  The joy in Willis’ letter is obvious:

It was wonderful and the joy that fills my heart cannot even be expressed in words. After explaining all to him and telling him the reasons for what has happened and the fact that God let this happen to him, I asked him about being a Christian. He said yes. We knelt together, he prayed his confession asked for help in understanding His word. I prayed later with him and no fooling, if heaven is like this it made me feel I surely will enjoy being there. A new soul has been born again. He said he felt different and he really looked like it. He leaves tomorrow for prison, but has promised to write to me. Dear, pray for him. God needs Christians in prison too.

The rest of the letter: http://achaplainatwar.org/october-21-1943/

Highlights from September, 1943

We still won’t have letters until mid January, but seeing as how many people haven’t had time to read all the letters that we post every day, I thought I’d share a few of the more important dates that Willis wrote letters.  This will give you a brief idea of the era and the struggles the he faced.  I’ll try and do this three times from now until the letters begin again.

September 5, 1943

Churchill at Harvard. 1943

Sir Winston Churchill speaks at Harvard where Willis is attending Chaplain training school.  Willis is not only in attendance, but very close to where Churchill speaks.  One of my favorite lines:

“Some of them were so far away that they couldn’t tell for sure which was Churchill but I was as close as anyone could be, except his immediate party, British generals, and American high ranking officers. So much has happened lately that it almost seems I’m dreaming. I have to pinch myself to really see if it’s true. I never dreamed I would see Churchill and never so close. There are people who would have given $100.00 to stand as close to him as I did.”

Read the rest of the post here:  http://achaplainatwar.org/september-5-1943/

September 23, 1943

Willis and his friend Wayne Soliday on their graduation day from Harvard Chaplain School, September 1943.

Willis graduated from Chaplain Training at the end of September and by the grace of God was able to stop in Chicago for a layover while he headed to his new assignment in Long Beach, California. Several of the men that he met while training at Harvard would become regular pen-pals while they were in their new roles.  Wayne Soliday of Pennsylvania and Alrik Blomquist of Iowa especially wrote many several in the coming years that Willis mentions in his correspondence with Sarah.

From his short letter:

Exams are all over, notebooks all turned in and what a good feeling. All we have tomorrow morning from 8 till 12 noon is time for review and the privilege to check up on things we are not yet sure about. In the afternoon, we will practice for our review (marching) which is to be held Saturday morning at 10 o’clock and immediately following is graduation.

Read the rest of the letter here: http://achaplainatwar.org/september-23-1943/

September 28-29th

Don Reed is in the center. Taken during his first year as brakeman.

As Willis was being transferred to Long Beach for his assignment, he wrote a postcard home to Sarah that he put in the mail at every stop that he could. As a special piece of the journey, his brother Don, who worked as a brakeman, was able to get on the train and travel with him for a time.

From that letter:

Don got on the train with me from Grand Island to Kearney. We had a good visit, all though very short. He looks good and likes railroading. I’m very hungry at present, haven’t had anything to eat as yet. I would enjoy some of your cooking or mom’s right now.

To read the rest of the short postcards visit these two links: