W. Wyeth Willard
Sometimes … the Internet manages to knock the wind out of me.
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.Other, Personal, Reference - Life, Reference - Writing, Writers - Dead