January 5, 2017

Some of the earliest memories I have in my life involve my grandfather.  I remember being a part of Children’s choir at First Baptist.  I remember during the holiday season we would go to local nursing homes and sing for the residents who lived there.  Once we were done singing we would walk around and talk to the residents and I would introduce myself as Tim Reed.

Willis and Sarah with their first 8 grandchildren in 1981. Tim is on the far left.

When they heard my last name they would inevitably ask, “Do you know Dr. Reed (or Willis Reed)?”  I would respond, “Yes, he’s my grandpa.”  And they would respond, “He is such a great man.”

As a child I never knew how to respond to that. I mean, he was my grandfather, so of course I thought he was great.  It also made me wonder what he did for all these other people, and why they thought he was so great.  Having a chance to read these letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother gives me a glimpse as to what they saw in him.  In these letters, my grandfather was not trying to impress, amaze, or give off the persona of a great pastor.  He was laying bare all of who he was, and what was inside him.

These letters show his intense desire to grow closer to God.  The letters show the passionate love he had for my Grandmother.  They show his desire to see all those around him know the love of Christ that he felt every day.  They show a man who is trying to make himself in Christ’s image.  Quite simply they show a man who is pursuing and producing the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  With our country in the midst of apathy, divisiveness and arrogance, we need to be reminded of those qualities even more.

January 5, 2017

Timothy Reed


Today we’d like to share a new page with you, and the real inspiration behind this website.  We also have made new cards that Willis used to hand out.  The only change that we made is that we put a web address on the back of the card directing them here.  This will allow Willis’ ministry to live on through you.  If you’d like to get some cards to hand out to others, see my father (Dan Reed) or myself (Jim Reed). If you’d like, you can send a SASE to one of us and we’ll send you a dozen.

This is the card:

The back of the card.

Here is the page:


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/

January 1, 2017

A reflection shared by David J. Reed – Willis’ grandson.

My grandfather represented the very best of his generation.  He worked hard without ever complaining.  He held fast to high ideals, and he glowed with joy and optimism.  He was a wellspring of memorable quotes and timeless proverbs.

As I was entering my first year of full-time ministry, I felt as if I needed a mentor, an old master who was an expert in his craft.  At the time, Grandpa was growing more forgetful, and he was doing very little ministry.  So, I asked him if I could take him to two of our local hospitals so that he could once again visit the sick at their bedside.  This, of course, was Grandpa’s “calling card,” he was a legendary, “unofficial” hospital chaplain who bounced from room to room like a honey bee pollinating daisies.  No hospital room was a stranger to Dr. Reed.  And so, we scheduled to do hospital visits together two mornings a week.  It was an honor to watch him work.

Willis and Sarah Reed. 1984.

In one hospital he entered the doctor’s lounge as if he belonged there, hanging up his heavy, black trench coat as if he had a hook reserved especially for him.  He would then make his way to a room full of cubicles where secretaries and administrative assistants busily typed and answered phones.  He would greet them warmly. “Good to see ya!” He would say.  It never sounded disingenuous or forced.  He may have been unable to recall someone’s name, or even read their name tag, but he really was happy to see you.  Slips of paper with names and room numbers were handed to him, and we’d be off, buzzing from room to room, spending no more than 10 minutes by a bedside.  Each visit began with a two-handed grip, a wide smile, and a series of encouraging words and memorable phrases.  Some of his favorites were pre-printed on a business cards which he handed out liberally.  His favorite was a quote by Oswald Chambers:

“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what happens in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.”

He moved with such purpose, such urgency.  He was never rushed or frantic.  But he knew he only had a few moments, and that this moment could be the last.  This, I believe, was a discipline he learned from the battlefield with soldiers who asked him to pray for them because this moment may be his last.  He learned that he may never have another opportunity to share the love of Christ or utter a comforting word of wisdom.  I believe this was the reason he rarely said, “No.”  He was conditioned by trembling men, imminent disaster, and the profound uncertainty associated with war.  It was an instinct that was born during his service as a chaplain in the army and it carried over into his ministry in the church, the community and in the hospitals.

One morning, a nurse asked my grandfather to visit a man who had just lost his wife.  She wanted Grandpa to offer words of comfort to him as he grieved.  I specifically remember walking into the room and seeing the man’s silhouette against the bright hospital window, his back to his recently deceased wife who was still lying on the bed with her mouth frozen wide open.  Without hesitating, Grandpa walked over to the man and held out his hand.  The grieving widower took his hand and they stood there in the bright light while Grandpa bowed his head and prayed.  I watched as I stood on holy ground.

On certain mornings, my grandfather walked slower, and I, as usual, was impatient.  So, I walked ahead of Grandpa, racing to the next room, hoping my speed would somehow encourage him to pick up the pace.  During one visit, I remember hearing a squeak followed by a thump.  As I turned, the nurses stationed along the hallway leapt into action.  Grandpa had slipped on a wet spot on the slick hallway floor, and he now was lying on his back.  He looked old and helpless, while I felt ashamed.  The nursing staff helped Grandpa to his feet and then one RN turned to me and stuck her finger in my chest saying, “Don’t you leave him like that again!”  Lesson learned.

The letters in this blog curated by my brother contain stories that have, until recently, been a mystery to me.  Grandpa had a set of “war stories” he shared with us – a “greatest hits” album of favorites that he often shared with us.  But these letters give us rare glimpses into the soul of a man I had the privilege of walking beside as he made his way down the waxed hospital halls with gracious urgency to let people know that someone cares.  Truthfully, he was always “A Chaplain at War.”

Dave Reed

December 30, 1979

In honor of my Grandfather’s 101st birthday, here is a sermon that he preached on his sixty-third birthday – 1979.  In his preaching he begins with talking about the biggest news item of the day – the Iranian hostage crisis.  Little did they know at the time that it was the just the beginning of an ordeal that would last 444 days and wouldn’t end until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981.


The one thing that we can see is how the panic of today is so easily forgotten tomorrow.  For those of us that were alive during time that the hostages were taken, it seemed as if the world was going to implode.  Willis talks about the communist threat and the uprising all over the world and the nationalism that was spreading throughout our own country as  in reaction to these feelings.  Sound familiar?  I was only four when the hostages were taken and nearly six when they were released, but I remember my parents talking a lot about it.  When I asked them about it now, their eyes drift back in time and they say, “Oh, yes. I remember…”  But all the fear, uncertainty and panic of the times?

A distant memory.

Replaced by a new one.

Assassinations, Chernobyl, Stock market collapse, Desert Storm, 9/11, Challenger, Dotcom bust, Ferguson, unrest in the Middle East, Russia, Freddy Gray….

Fear, hatred, distrust…

There’s only one answer.  And it isn’t in government.  Willis makes that abundantly clear in his sermon.

The answer is in Christ.  There lies our true freedom.


November 18, 2017

The 18th of November, 1943 was one of those rare instances when my grandfather didn’t write a letter, so I thought I’d share something we found while sorting through the mountains of history that he and my grandmother left behind.  It was a War Ration book from my great-grandmother and great-grandfather.   There were three booklets and they were over half-full of stamps still unused.  It was as if they had gone from full-blown war – to unfettered abundance overnight. Years of shortage and terror were coming to an end and hope was on the horizon.

I thought this exemplified much of what my grandfather said a his message that he often repeated in later years. His message was that the difficult times we live through now will pass, and when they do we might just be able to look back and realize that these days weren’t meant for us at all, but to make us a comfort to others and be God’s hands to them.


Here are his words which were a paraphrase of Oswald Chambers:

If you are going to be used by God, He will take you thru a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands and to enable you to understand what happens in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.

These difficult times will pass.  The times for rationing are temporary and build us into the people God wants us to be.

God Bless,

Jim Reed

November 18, 2017

October 2, 2017

As I have been reading Dad’s letters it’s become more clear to me what an exceptional person he was.  His work ethic, energy level, integrity, positive outlook, as well as his love for the Lord and his Darling Sarah shine through in his writing and are inspiring indeed.

Reed family reunion 1956. Willis with his father Earl, his children (from left to right) John, Daniel, Martha, Mark and his “Dearest Darling Sweetheart,” Sarah.

Dad. Willis. Dr. Reed. Pastor Reed. Chaplain. Colonel Reed.  All of these monikers were used by the people in various circles to address my father during my formative years.  He was many things to many people, but I was fortunate and truly blessed to be able to call him Dad.  Larger than life yet humble in spirit, Dad was a person to which most could only aspire to be.  At the perfect time, he would share simple sayings such as, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care” or “Some folks bury the hatchet, but then they leave the handle sticking out.”  His insight into human nature with people from all walks of life was extraordinary.  He once told me that on two separate occasions he calmly took a gun out of a man’s hand during a domestic dispute.  To me, this represents the truest form of Christ-like love and bravery–the winning of the heart and mind through nonviolent means.

After Dad retired from his job as Head Pastor at First Baptist Church in Elgin, he and Sarah would spend a week in summer visiting our family in Vermont.  We were lucky to be able to have my parents all to ourselves without them being distracted by the trappings of hearth and home.  As the years progressed, Dad became a bit forgetful and his mind a bit less sharp.  We would tell him things and a few minutes later he’d ask about the very thing we’d just said.  However, his joy and enthusiasm never wavered.  Once during a summer visit, he said he was going to use the bathroom and turned to go in the wrong direction.  Sarah chuckled quietly and whispered to us, “He doesn’t know where he’s going.”  Not to be outdone, Dad turned to us and replied emphatically, “I know where I’m going–I’m going to heaven!”  Yet another example of the simple truths that Dad regularly shared.

I still think of Dad every day at some point.  When confronted with a dilemma or difficult situation I reflect on his wisdom or his lovingkindness as inspiration to carry on.  The legacy that Willis and Sarah left all of us provides an endless source of energy and love that can only come from above.

John Reed

October 2, 2017

September 27, 2017

My grandfather, Willis Reed, always loomed larger than life to me.  Whether it was at our house for dinner after church, at their home for the holidays, or seeing him preach at church, Grandpa alway seemed to be a gigantic figure to me.  To this day, stories of him are told to me by others as they greet me at church or when I see someone who knew him well.   He wasn’t an extraordinary preacher, he didn’t tell the best stories and he wasn’t the life of the party.  It was the little things that he did consistently that made him stand out. He would shake every hand after church.  He visited two hospitals every day. He had a smile for all he met. And he loved being a pastor.  There was no doubt about that.  I was assured of that at the viewing of his funeral as thousands came to pay their respects.  We stood in line for hour after hour listening to stories of how Grandpa had affected peoples’s lives.

And as large as he had been in life  – he grew larger yet.

Willis Reed truly loved Jesus and did all in his power to live like him.  That’s why he visited the hospitals every day.  That’s why he conducted thousands of weddings and funerals.  It’s why people came to him and confided in him and felt like he was part of their family.  They loved him because he loved them.  Just like Jesus. I was so proud to have him as a grandfather. Even if I had to share him with all of Elgin.

These newspaper clippings are just a couple of the dozens that came out after his death. They embody some of the feelings that the town had for him.  As you continue to read his letters and follow along on this journey, you’ll see that his time in the army during World War 2 was forming him into the man God needed him to be.  As dark as it was, it was for a purpose.  Grandpa had a card written that he passed out to people that he would meet.  This is what the card says:

If you are going to be used by God, He will take you thru a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands and to enable you to understand what happens in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.

In the letters that follow this post, Grandpa meets with so many men who cannot make sense of all that the world is going through, and they were broken as humanity tore itself apart for six terrible years. During those unimaginable times,  Grandpa found his calling to serve others in the name of Christ.

It’s been 20 years since my Grandfather went home. May we all learn to live life with the joy of Christ directing our steps as he did.

Jim Reed

September 27, 2017