W. Wyeth Willard

Sometimes … the Internet manages to knock the wind out of me.

W. Wyeth Willard, Chaplain 8th Marines


Willard was credited with serving more consecutive days under constant enemy fire than any chaplain in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Willard landed with the Marines during the World War II battle at Guadalcanal, and of the eight chaplains who served the Marines there, he was the only survivor. In 1944, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Navy’s highest honor, for his service with the 2nd Marine division during the 1943 battle at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

After seeking special permission to go ashore with his men, Willard, despite heavy enemy fire, evacuated the wounded and gave spiritual comfort to the dying. He paced the beach in full view, chanting “I’m Chaplain Willard and you can’t shoot me!” reported Leatherneck, the magazine of the U.S. Marines, in November 1980.

Emphasis added by me.

I never knew this about him.

For several consecutive years when I was kid, I attended a summer camp he founded.

None of us kids saw him as special or courageous or brave.

He was generally a distant fellow, who now and then would address all of us kids.

One of his specialties was doing an imitation of a rooster welcoming dawn. That sounds like a minor thing. But let me tell you, when he did it, it was God’s Own Rooster thundering from Heaven! He was prohibited from doing it by his doctor, that’s how powerful it was. But one summer, one of the counselors had an eye injury and Willard said he’d do the rooster if we all chipped in to help pay for the surgery. He was putting his life on the line for that.

I didn’t know until moments ago that putting his life on the line was something he’d done many times before. And at Guadalcanal, one of the bloodbaths of the Second World War. He not only survived it, he walked it defiantly!

One time, on a trip, we went to some sort of museum and part of the presentation was an old silent movie with, I think, Charlie Chase, in a DIY auto that he powered with a giant magnet, towing himself behind car after car. Willard laughed at that movie with a gusto that bordered on shameful for a grown man! Tears were coming from his eyes! I thought it was funny — but his reaction was … we’d call it Over the Top today. But it was genuine.

It was a Christian camp, devoted to instilling Biblical values in children. Today, that sounds like a horrible thing. That’s how degraded the term “Christian” has become over the decades, due to cartoon “Christians” strutting TV stages, sticking their noses into politics, and overall acting very unlike Jesus.

Whenever I think “Christian,” I see the true Christians I witnessed at that camp. All saints? No, of course not. Regular flawed human beings who did their best without being inconsiderate of others, who didn’t strut around in expensive suits, who didn’t make embarrassing displays of themselves. And some, of course, were there just for a paycheck for the summer, but they never claimed to be holier than anybody — and who knows?, maybe the environment influenced them and they became better people.

We kids never knew what the first “W.” stood for. I still don’t. And, of course, give a kid a strange name and we’ll mangle it into shape for easy ridicule. So “Wyeth” (pronounced WHY-eth) became “Weeth” to us. “Weeth Willard” was what we called him. Behind his back, of course.

To go through the hell of war like that — and then to come home to want to work with noisy, trouble-making kids? It’s inconceivable to me. But I saw him lead us in prayer. I heard his words to God.

His was a true faith. And he was a true man.

God bless and rest his soul. May he have his reward.

Explore posts in the same categories: Other, Personal, Reference - Life, Reference - Writing, Writers - Dead

8 Comments on “W. Wyeth Willard”

  1. Warren Wyeth Willard II Says:

    What a heart warming tribute you have given to my grandfather. You may be happy to know that he performed his rooster call well into his eighties.

    Again, many thanks for your kind words.

  2. mikecane Says:

    He defied the war and his doctors’ warnings. Probably outlived all his doctors too.

  3. Lois Says:

    Wyeth was married to my aunt’s sister-in-law, so he is my cousins’ uncle. We have pictures of Wyeth among our old family photos. One of my cousins worked at that camp at least one summer.

  4. Suzy Metaxas Says:

    Rev. Willard was a great and wonderful man. I had the blessing of attending Camp Good News from 1958 to 1961. I have just recently learned of his WWII exploits, yet he was always bigger than life to me. I didn’t find him distant but loving and caring. I can never thank him enough for the strong Christian faith he gave me through his sermons and his camp. I remember like it was yesterday the one thing he told me that I passed on to my children as they grew into adults. Never walk through a door that you don’t want to bring Jesus with you; because you are a baptized Christian and every door you walk through he comes with you. It kept me out of many places that I shouldn’t even a thought about going to :) God bless his soul and his family who continue the work he started at Camp Good News. We need more Christian light in this world of darkness. I like to think that each of his campers is a light he sent into this world to witness for Jesus.

  5. […] past.  So let me see he leaves a family run Christian camp established by W. Wyeth Willard,  a Naval Chaplain with the Marines in WW II, and his wife Grace Willard, an institution that has never had any such […]

  6. […] one from a developmental standpoint. I found the Willard-Brooks clan, descendants of founder WW II Hero – W. Wyeth Willard, Chaplain 8th Marines, to be a wonderful, salt of the earth people, […]

    • mikecane Says:

      Your timing is spooky.

      First, I did a post about the scandal at my other blog:

      Bad News At Camp Good News

      Second, I was reading news articles about it earlier this week, and saw the Smith one. I also tried to recall if I knew two of the counselors named (who aren’t suspects). But it’s been so long and we only really knew them by first names, that I just don’t know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: