WWII Navy vet Richard Vanderwall

Vanderwall 10-12 (2)

I met  Richard Vanderwall last summer in my quest to interview WWII vets and record their stories. He and his wife are sweet people and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them. They live at the same retirement community as Mom. If you know a WWII vet, ask them to share stories– you’ll be amazed!


“By the time our ship reached Pearl Harbor on December 12, oil from the explosions of American ships was three inches thick on the water,” said Richard Vanderwall of Fort Wayne.


Vanderwall was a Seaman 2nd class assigned to the USS Indianapolis in the United States Navy. His duties included keeping the ship’s log while at sea and being stationed on the bridge above two batteries of 8-inch guns. His duty of being stationed on the ship’s bridge above the two batteries of 8-inch guns would result in permanent hearing loss in one ear.


Upon hearing of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Indianapolis which was just arriving at Johnston Island, 717 miles southwest of Honolulu, when the attack occurred. Immediately the cruiser reversed its course and headed toward the Hawaiian Islands to help.


Despite being five days after the initial attack, danger was not over. At 1800 hours on December 12, a Japanese sub fired on the USS Indianapolis. Thankfully, it missed, giving the Allies time to retaliate. “One of our destroyers blew him out of the water,” said Vanderwall.


As the pier for the USS Indianapolis was demolished by the Japanese war planes, the Indianapolis docked at another pier. No lights were allowed. For 10 days the USS Indianapolis, two other American cruisers and three American destroyers patrolled the area, looking for enemy subs and aircraft on radar.


Such excitement was not part of Richard Vanderwall’s plan when he joined the Navy in 1940. Born on a Potawatomi Indian Reservation in Delia, Kansas in 1921, Vanderwall lived with his family, including parents and two sisters and two brothers. His father worked for a man who owned a nearby ranch.


After graduating from High School in Soldier, Kansas, in 1939, Vanderwall looked for employment. The Depression made it nearly impossible to find a job. His father had been a sailor with the United States Navy during World War I. He recommended that Richard join the military and be guaranteed a pay check. With his father’s assistance in accompanying him to the recruiting station in Topeka, Kansas, Richard Vanderwall passed all of his tests and enlisted in the Navy in February 1940.


By May Vanderwall had completed Basic Training at Great Lakes Training Center (today it is called Naval Station Great Lakes). He was assigned to 120 Company G. Each sailor was issued clothing, one sheet, hammock and pillow. “Some guys never learned sleep to sleep in a hammock,” said Vanderwall who was able to do so.


From Chicago Vanderwall was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco, California, where he was assigned to the USS Maryland. This location was, among other things, the major Navy departure point for sailors in the Pacific.



In May 1940 the USS Maryland and its crew set out for Honolulu. During the 2,200 mile trip Vanderwall quickly acquired his sea legs. “I was never sick,” he said. After receiving a New Testament Bible from his mother, he often spent time reading it.


At Pearl Harbor Vanderwall was transferred to the USS Indianapolis. By Sept 1942 His rank was Quartermaster 2nd class. Vanderwall was not authorized to carry a side arm.


The incident with Pearl Harbor had put the United States at war with Axis powers. The American Navy, though damaged heavily by Japan’s destruction at Pearl Harbor, recovered and became aggressive in fighting the Japanese and Germans. As a result, Vanderwall saw plenty more action.


In February 1942 at Rabaul on the island of New Britain, approximately 350 miles south of New Guinea, Japanese bombers attacked American ships. One of them was the USS Indianapolis. Miraculously, the ships escaped damage while every Japanese plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire by the ships and fighter planes in the area. One American fighter pilot, Butch O’Hare, shot down five enemy planes, eliminating the primary threat. His precise actions that day made him America’s first flying ace and a Medal of Honor recipient.



The Japanese continued to rule Rabaul, using it as an air base, though essentially cut off by Allied forces on surrounding islands. They surrendered the island in 1945.


Another naval battle for Vanderwall took place at Kiska, Alaska.

The Japanese had captured Kiska, part of the Aleutian Island chain, on June 6, 1942. The sole inhabitants of the island included a small U.S. Navy Weather Detachment consisting of ten men. The next day the Japanese captured the nearby island of Attu.


In October USS Indianapolis and other American vessels attempted to fire on Japanese troops on the island of Kiska. The Japanese returned fire, but no lives were lost. The Japanese held the island until 1943. Vanderwall and other sailors involved in the skirmish earned a battle star for the endeavor.


Another danger common to sailors came not from enemy fire but Mother Nature in the form of typhoons. In November 1942 Vanderwall’s ship encountered a typhoon with 15-foot waves and winds of 100 knots (115 mph) that endangered the lives of everyone on board. This particular typhoon lasted for two days. “We were approaching the Unimac Pass in the Aleutian chain,” said Vanderwall. “Despite the bad weather, we cleared the pass and kept the ship steady.”


By November 1942, Vanderwall had seen enough excitement on the Indianapolis and asked to be reassigned. He left the ship in November 1942 in Alaska and returned at Treasure Island near San Francisco where he was assigned to the USS Tuluran.


Vanderwall was still in the Navy on July 30, 1945, when the Indianapolis, still serving Allied forces, was torpedoed by a Japanese sub. The Indianapolis had just delivered critical parts for the first atomic bomb to be used in combat to the United States air base at Tinian when it was attacked.


The ship sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,196 crewmen aboard, approximately 317 went down with the ship. For four days the remaining men faced death, primarily by shark attacks as they awaited assistance. Survivors were spotted four days later by the crew of a patrol boat. Only 317 sailors survived. Indianapolis was the last major U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy action in World War II.


Even though Vanderwall had been off of the Indianapolis for two years, he recalls the angry feelings he and other American sailors felt as they heard the news of its sinking. “There was not a single guy in the American Navy who didn’t want be out at sea at that time,” he said. The feelings of patriotism have continued throughout his life.


After leaving the Tuluran, Vanderwall was sent by the Navy to Washburn University in Topeka to enroll in courses for aeronautical engineering.


In July 1944 he was transferred to the University of Notre Dame for more schooling. There he met a pretty high school graduate named Erma. “She was a hostess at the Service Men’s Center,” said Vanderwall. Hostesses danced and provided conversation with soldiers. Erma left the center with her date, but returned to dance with Vanderwall.


The two kept in touch while Vanderwall resumed his military career. Following Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Vanderwall was discharged in February 1946. For being involved in three battles Vanderwall was awarded three battle stars. He proposed to Erma on Valentine’s Day 1946 and they married in April.


Vanderwall planned to use his GI (‘government issue’, a term used to refer to an American soldier) bill benefits to attend Notre Dame. He switched his major from aeronautical engineering to economics. However, the college had a 2-year waiting period, due to other soldiers wanting to use the GI bill. Vanderwall enrolled instead at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. By the time he graduated in 1949, the Vanderwalls had two children.


They would eventually have six children and later 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


Richard Vanderwall became an insurance salesman working in LaPorte, Muncie, Fort Wayne, and Minnesota. He retired in Fort Wayne. Today, Richard and Erma Vanderwall live in a retirement community in Fort Wayne.


In June 2011 Vanderwall participated in the Honor Flight, a program that offers WWII veterans the opportunity to tour the nation’s capital, free of charge. “I am proud to have been involved as an American sailor in World War II,” he said. “The experiences I had at that time have been with me all of my life.”


The End







Dishonest Dealings

 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me that I too may come and worship him’. (Matthew 2:9, New American Standard Bible)

Beautiful poinsettias photographed by Dave Reusser

 My friend, Heather, had never shown an interest in God. I hesitated to mention my own faith since I thought might alienate her. So I wrote to a minister who lived close to her, asking him to visit her. My plan was that he would appear to “drop in” as he canvassed the neighborhood, asking people to come to church. “Remember not to mention my name,” I added. I didn’t want Heather to be mad at me for interfering in her life.


The minister refused to act on my terms, however. He pointed out in a reply letter that while he appreciated my interest in Heather’s welfare, he wondered why I wanted to remain anonymous. “Why don’t you contact Heather and tell her of your belief in God? Then ask if I can visit her and talk about her beliefs.”


After reading his reply, I realized I had been dishonest in my request. I was more concerned about my friendship with Heather than I was about her soul. Thankfully, the preacher corrected me. Herod was dishonest in his concern for the Christ child. Thankfully, his plan was foiled through God’s intervention.


Prayer: Lord, You know our hearts and why we do things. Help us to always be honest in our dealings with others so that we might show them our belief and trust in You. Amen.









Overcoming Holiday Blues

This story has been posted on my blog in other years but it is such a timely subject that I wanted to share it again. It originally was published in The Lookout Magazine. Since then, we have lost my father-in-law. Losing a loved one is never easy, but enduring it at the holidays is harder. I hope this helps and blesses everyone who reads it. Please let me know your thoughts. Take care.


My dad died in August 25, 2005. His death was the result of an unsuccessful surgery for an enlarged aortic aneurysm (he had to have the surgery to remove it or it could have burst, killing him at any time). The next couple of months were a blur. I worked in a college library and had to immediately return to work for the new school year. My older children were in college and my youngest in high school so their lives were full too with school duties. My husband’s work in a factory also kept him busy.

Dad’s last Christmas before Heaven.

Having little time to grieve became a disadvantage as the Christmas holidays approached. My own family as well as those of my two sisters, wondered how to handle our usual holiday family traditions minus Dad’s presence. Who would distribute our extended family’s gifts to each other on Christmas Eve? Dad always did that. Who would buy the piece of jewelry Dad always gave to Mom? Who would sit in his chair at the head of the table during meals? Dad had loved each of us unconditionally and we missed him. To replace him without thought during those special occasions seemed dishonorable.

The Bible says, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Proverbs 3:4). Unfortunately, the time to mourn can seem to interfere with the message of Christmas, which is joy. This emotion can be difficult to manifest for people dealing with loss of a loved one. One thing that can help is to be prepared to deal with grief at Christmas.               



One of our favorite photos of Grandma Jane.

1. Acknowledge your feelings of loss.

The first year after Dad died I tried ignoring my grief as Christmas approached. It didn’t work. Holiday music grated on my nerves as it was far from ‘the hap-hap-happiest season of all’. To croon, “There’s nowhere like home for the holidays” was a lie when every visit to my parents’ home reminded me of Dad and how he would not be here to celebrate with us.

For a person in grief Christmas is far from ‘the hap-hap-happiest season of all’.

Attending a grief seminar that focused on ways to handle grief during the holidays helped. The instructors provided ideas for achieving a sense of normalcy (would anything ever be normal again?). Their suggestions alleviated my anxiety about greeting the season of Christ’s birth with joy when my heart was heavy.

One suggestion that meant much to me was to honor Dad’s absence by establishing a memorial in his honor. Our family chose to do this by hanging an ornament with his photo (a smiling head shot) on the front of our Christmas tree. Seeing it among the twinkling lights reminded me each time I drew near of Dad’s happy outlook on life.

The methods of handling grief at holidays can vary by individuals. Every year since Dad’s death, my sister and her daughter have honored him by taking holiday gifts to the local animal shelter in memory of his hobby of raising dogs.

After my mother-in-law died of cancer, another daughter-in-law burned a candle during daytime hours for weeks leading up to Christmas in her honor.

When thinking of ways to honor a loved one, it can be soothing to bless others simultaneously. My friend and author Cathy Shouse purchases a poinsettia each year to decorate her church in memory of her mother-in-law who died several years ago. “My mother-in-law’s  name is printed in the church bulletin along with the names of several other people who have passed away and are placed there by members of the church,” said Cathy. “After Christmas, we take the flowers home and continue honoring our loved ones by caring for the plants.”


John and his dad had a close relationship until Bob’s death in 2011.

2. Accept comfort and support from friends.

Grief can feel like a solitary process, but it can help to accept comfort from family and friends. A few weeks after Dad’s death, a friend sent me a card. “I know Christmas will be difficult for you this year,” Tonya wrote. “I’m praying God will bless you this holiday season.” Her contact reminded me I wasn’t alone. 

Jonathan and David had this kind of friendship when Jonathan said to his friend, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.” (1 Samuel 20:42 NIV). These friends were there for each other through everything life could produce. That proved especially true when David later cared for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, after Jonathan’s death (2 Samuel 4:4).
The Christmas season can take a strenuous toll on individuals suffering from loss of a loved one. Friends offering a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear can lessen the impact.


3. Grief can lead to spiritual growth.

Jesus spoke about the inevitability of grief in our lives when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted. (Matt 5:4 NIV). 

My friend Susan discovered this comfort the Christmas following her father’s suicide. “I had just graduated from college,” she said. “My life was supposed to be filled with excitement over new possibilities. Instead, it came to a screeching halt. I was shocked and devastated.”

That tableau continued throughout the fall. Then, in December while singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, Susan had a revelation. “The words from the song ‘Born that man no more may die’ took on new meaning,” she said. “I realized for the first time in my life what Christmas was about. It wasn't a matter of doing something or focusing on what I didn't have but focusing instead on what God gave us on Christmas Day. The weight of grief lifted from my heart.” 

4. Care for yourself when in the throes of grief.              

I was shocked at how pain from Dad’s death affected more than just my emotions. Getting out of bed, choosing clothes to wear and food to eat became difficult as Christmas approached. Concentrating on doing things I enjoyed, such as volunteering to help with a charity, attending a candle light service, calling an old friend to wish her Merry Christmas, taking a child shopping for his parent’s gift, helped assuage my sluggish movements. By thinking less of my loss and focus more on others at Christmas, I obeyed the words of Paul in Philippians, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  (2:4 NIV)

As the days got closer to the Season of Joy that first year after Dad’s death, I cried more often and apologized less. It was hard to smile at gift-opening time for many of us in our extended family, but we knew Dad would not want us to be sad at this family event.  He would want us to feel happy. 

By the time the next Christmas occurred, we could talk about Dad without entering a crying jag. Such actions did not mean we missed him any less. We just could handle our loss better by then.

5. Ways to help others through the grieving process. 

Do you hurt for someone who is grieving and want to help them through the season of Christ’s birth? The above suggestions can be adapted to fit their needs (i.e. give money to a charity in celebration of the loved one’s life; make a memory tree for the deceased; purchase a poinsettia to decorate a church and place the name of the friend who has passed away on it).

Churches can help people dealing with grief at Christmas by providing support. One example is a Living and Giving Tree. It can be a full-sized tree (artificial is recommended) placed in a central location, such as the sanctuary, at Christmas time. Envelopes filled with names of people from the church who have suffered loss during the past year are hung on the tree. Other church members choose a name and offer an appropriate gift to the bereaved, thus offering friendship during a difficult time– a meal, gift, an invitation to go caroling.

Two gifts you can give a person deep in the pit of grief that will mean more than anything — undivided attention and unconditional acceptance of their journey.

Grief can occur at any point in our lives. It seems especially tough to have it interfere with Christmas, the season created to bring joy to every person through Christ’s birth. But if we accept the support of friends, share with others, and acknowledge our feelings of loss, we can move toward the road of healing and true understanding of Jesus’ birth.


The End




Watching our Words

“He does not evil to his neighbor…” Ps. 15: 3


Fall flowers, Dave Reusser

Our Ladies Bible Study had concluded and Helen slipped into the ladies’ room. As we gathered our purses and Bibles, Alexa asked, “Has anyone seen Tom Mitchell’s house recently?” Several of us who knew the man with a slovenly yard shook our heads. Alexa continued, “He’s brought in more old cars, probably to salvage parts from. I swear that man has more trash at his place than a junkyard!”  

            We all laughed and turned to leave–then froze at the look on Helen’s face. She stood outside the bathroom, staring at us. Her face was white and her eyes wide with disbelief. Without a word, Helen snatched up her Bible and purse and hurried out of the church building.

            Helen’s appearance and unexplained departure concerned me and I hurried after her. “Helen, wait!” Her keys were in the ignition by the time I caught up with her. “What’s wrong?”

            “I overheard your remarks,” she burst out.  “Everyone thinks Tom Mitchell is trash, but he is my father and it hurt me to hear all of you talking about him like that!” Tears spilling down her cheeks, Helen drove away. 


God, help me to watch every word that comes out of my mouth, especially judgments made in jest. It is evil and most definitely hurts. Help me to be an instrument of your peace.


A workshop for writers at International Conference on Missions

These books contain stories written by Kayleen Reusser.

This Saturday I’ll be leading a workshop, “Writing to Praise”, at 3:00, room 240, Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis as part of the International Conference on Missions.

There is a cost  of $15 to attend the weekend-long conference, but every workshop is free. Everyone is welcome!

Children’s books written by Kayleen Reusser.

I’m anxious to interest others in writing for God!

Please pray my words meet needs of those interested in fulfilling this gift of service to Him.


Hope to see you there!

Church Away from Home

My husband John served 21 years in the Air Force, Air Reserves and Fort Wayne International Guard Base’s 122nd Fighter Wing. Our daughters were with him in 2006 when he retired from the Guard.

In honor of Veteran’s Day this story is posted to relay an important episode in my husband’s military career. It has been published in several Sunday School take home papers. We never know when a military person might need a nudge toward God. Can you provide that to some vet today?





By John Reusser

As told to

Kayleen J. Reusser



In 1972, I was 20 and a new Air Force recruit, fresh out of TechnicalTraining School. I had been assigned to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, for weapons training. Having been raised on a dairy farm where the demands for my time were strict, I was tempted to spend most of my free time at the beach.


But Mom and Dad had taken us kids to church each Sunday while I was growing up and I chose not to slough off my religious upbringing.


Instead, I read the New Testament issued to me from the military chaplain. That inspired me to look for a church like the one in the New Testament with preaching about God and His leading. It wouldn’t be easy when none of my buddies were interested but I wanted to go anyway.


I wasn’t even sure what to look for. The church at home spoke nearly every Sunday about social problems and how to become better citizens. I didn’t know if every church was like that or if a church that used only the Bible for its guidelines existed. I just knew I was tired of listening to lectures by men and sometimes women who preferred to speak on issues of the day instead of the Scriptures.


I prayed and asked God to help me find a church that believed the Bible and followed it.


The base chaplain directed me to a nearby street where three churches were located. They looked similar, but the one with “Christian” in its name caught my attention. I visited there the following Sunday.


What happened that day amazed me. First, the entire congregation took communion and said it  was done each week. The preacher pointed out how the disciples had done this so it made sense.


Then the preacher gave a simple, clear sermon from the Bible. He didn’t tell us how to become better citizens, but how we could obey God’s command to strengthen His Kingdom by following Him.


Then he said anyone who wanted to accept Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior could be baptized right then. He made it sound like the most important decision a person could make.


When a young woman stepped out from the aisle and talked briefly to the preacher and he announced they would have a baptism in a few minutes, I couldn’t believe it. They were actually going to do it that morning!


I watched, mesmerized, as the young woman’s head went under water a few minutes later in the baptistry. The minister uttered words that were strange-sounding: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Then he carefully placed his hands under the girl’s head and lowered her into the water. As she came up, she seemed to glow.


I was astounded. The minister explained the church practiced baptism for remission of sins just as it was described in the New Testament. I knew from my daily Bible readings that baptism was as important to a person’s Christian faith as repentance.


It didn’t take long for me to decide that this church, Westshore Christian Church, was what I had been looking and praying for. The minister introduced me to the couple in charge of the church’s singles’ ministry. I attended there as often as I could and accompanied the young adults on many of their excursions. The sermons taught me much about living the Christian life.


Eight months later, I was released from active duty and returned to the Midwest to join the Reserves. At home, I visited a couple of churches before finding one that followed New Testament practices. In February 1978, my parents, two brothers, and I were baptized in the First Church of Christ in Bluffton, Indiana.


I met my wife there and we married in 1980. We’ve brought up our three children in the same church which has never deviated from its Christian teaching. We pray our children will raise their own families in a Bible-believing faith.


I don’t think it was a coincidence that God led me to Westshore Christian Church. I had been praying for wisdom and guidance in finding the right church and God honored that request. Churches, like Westshore, that are located close to military bases, have the unique opportunity to reach out to people stationed there. Often, as was my case, these young men and women and sometimes their families, are at a critical point in their lives. No one is there to look over their shoulders and tell them what is right or wrong. They have to decide these things on their own.


The military life, just as any other, has possibilities for personal growth. But it also has areas for potential pitfalls. The church needs to be there to get involved and help pick up the pieces.


I am thankful to the people at Westshore Christian Church who made me feel a part of their lives for a short time. Their Christian example touches not only my life but the lives of others. Only God knows how much this answer has influenced generations to come.




The End



WWII vet Homer Bates received Distinguished Flying Cross

In honor of the approaching Veteran’s Day I’m featuring stories I’ve written about World War II vets. What an honor to interview them about their time serving our country.

This is my husband’s uncle. Do you know a WWII vet?

Tell a vet of any time period today (and every day) that you appreciate his/her service.

Homer Bates received a Distinguished Flying Cross medal and met President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family while serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII.



Being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross medal and meeting an American president are just a few of the highlights of Wells County resident Homer Bates’ life.



Born in 1923, Bates grew up on a farm in Iowa. His family moved to Wells County before Bates turned 18 and he graduated from Union Center High School near Rockcreek Center.


In 1942 he joined the Air Force (then referred to as the Army Air Corps) at the outbreak of World War II. After testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Bates was sent for training as an aerial gunner to military schools in Miami Beach and North Carolina. He also was stationed in Louisiana and at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.


As one in charge of firing guns on bombers, Bates was assigned to the 20th Army Air Corps 58th Bomber wing. During his wartime career, he flew in several aircraft, including B29s, F47s and F51s.


As the B29s were still in production at the time of Bates’ training, he and other gunners practiced on simulators using the B17 plane since it had similar controls of the B29. When it came time to practice actual shooting, the gunners experienced a different problem.


“Several of us in the plane shot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and each of us shot a different color. We could tell by the colors of the holes who needed more practice.”


During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan. His planes were often involved in combat and received heavy flak. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort Bates, a staff sergeant, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1945 he was also privileged to meet then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family as they toured an aircraft facility.


Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. In 1954 he joined the Indiana National Guard until 1961. He then re-joined the Air Force for a year, and joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982.


During that same time, Bates worked as a dairy farmer in the Markle and Ossian areas and was employed by the Indiana Department of Transportation as a dispatcher. He and his wife Helen married in 1950 and had six children.


Currently a resident at River Terrace Estates in Bluffton, Bates is satisfied with his life. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.


The End