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Walter Reed, Jr. was born on Monday, July 30, 1923. He was the second child of Walter Reed, Sr., and Marion (Hawkins) Reed. On Thursday, October 19, 2023, he quietly passed away from this world into eternal peace.
Walter was educated in the Philadelphia Public School system, attending Gen. John F. Reynolds Elementary, Robert Vaux, Jr. High, and Benjamin Franklin High Schools. He left school early, opting instead to work so he could financially help his parents and siblings. He was employed at the Globe Rubber Company when he was called for service at the age of twenty.
Walter was drafted into the U.S. Army on April 3, 1943, and assigned to Co A 132nd Engineer Regiment as a Truck Driver Light (345) Automotive Equipment Operator. During WWII, he was deployed as part of the Normandy Campaign in Northern France. Walter personally said, “We drove in convoys, and bedded down in our trucks at night.” He said, “Trucks were the war horse of the Army, you know.” That would have made Walter a part of the “Red Ball Express.” They were 70% Black men, transporting ammunition, gas, medicine, rations, and prisoners of war. The Red Ball Express trucks and the Black men who drove and loaded them made the United States Army the most mobile and mechanized force in the war. Walter’s awards and decorations include WWII Victory Medal, American Theater Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal, Philippines Liberation Ribbon, FAME Theater Service Medal with 5 Bronze Stars, and the Good Conduct Medal. His honored service and sacrifices contributed to The Coalition Victory in WWII. After the victory in Paris, France, Walter thought he was coming home. Instead, he was deployed to the Philippines to prepare for battle. In August 1945, the U.S dropped the atomic bomb on Japan killing 140 thousand in Hiroshima, and 74,000 in Nagasaki. Many more died from leukemia, cancer, radiation, and other side effects. That’s when it was finally over for him, and he returned to the United States, forever changed, unable to unsee or undo the horrors he experienced. Walter was discharged from active service on December 27, 1945.
When Walter entered the military, most of his nieces and nephews were either unborn or babies. We never knew and he never talked about being in the war until he was in his late eighties. When we asked why, he simply explained, it was a very prejudiced time back then, and wearing a U.S. military uniform didn’t change the treatment you received here or abroad. Black people were known as Negroes back then and treated as second class citizens or less. A few (5) were allowed to become officers during WWII, but most were not assigned combat duty because they were considered inferior. Instead, they were assigned service duties such as supply, maintenance, and transportation. The military was completely segregated at that time, but abroad, some German women preferred to date Black soldiers over the White. The German women were known to say they wanted to date a bunny, which is what they called them. Segregation was not a part of their culture, so the community treated Blacks as human beings, equal with dignity, and respect. This infuriated the White soldiers who had brought “Jim Crow,” and segregation overseas with them. If a Black man was caught with a German woman, they would be beaten by white American soldiers. There was great racial tension which included horror stories, i.e., The Battle of Bamber Bridge.
Walter told a few stories about his own experience here in America. While in full uniform he boarded a bus in Texas. The bus driver looked at him and said, “That uniform don’t mean s%@# to me, get you’re a#! to the back of the bus with the rest of the niggers!” Another time he sat on an empty bench waiting for the bus when a white woman came and sat down. A white man walked up the street, stopped, looked at him and said, “I’m going to walk around the block. By the time I get back, you better have found you another seat!” Even President Truman was quoted as saying, “My stomach turned over when I learned that Black soldiers, just back from overseas were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten.” One of these soldiers lost his sight after such a beating. This was the U.S. that Black soldiers fought and died for. As far as inferior, when manpower was desperately needed, the U.S. finally gave the order to allow them to engage in battle mid 1944 – 1945, black soldiers (Tuskegee Airmen and Buffalo Soldiers) as history records, proved themselves to be fierce, brave, honorable, and worthy, blowing inferiority out the window! By the end of the WWII, the assignment of Black officers rose to 7000. Now, we don’t know for certain why Walter didn’t choose to talk about his military experience; the one thing we do know for sure is he was emphatic about not wanting any benefits from the military. He said, “I never wanted to be honored, awarded, or celebrated over the deaths of other human beings. I guess I must have done something right in my life, that’s why the “Good Lord” allowed me to live to see 100 years.”
Walter was messed up for years after leaving the service. Then he met the love of his life, Nanna Betty Betts. He met Nannie in 1953 when she came to visit her uncle who lived and cut hair on the 1500 block of Lambert Street where Walter also lived with his family. They married on April 6, 1958. Though there were no children born to this union, they loved and received love from the children in their families. They had a devoted and undying love for one another until his beloved passed away on Tuesday, October 5, 2010. They had been married for 52 years.
Walter was a very loving, humble, soft spoken, quiet man with a sense of humor; a practical joker who loved to laugh and see you laugh. Sharp-witted, he was always a joy to talk to. He could hold a conversation with you whether it was about the history of his youth or current events. When asked about his favorite color, he said, “I don’t look at colors like that. I don’t have a favorite one because they are like a rainbow, you need all of them, and all colors are beautiful.” He was called different names by his nieces and nephews. To some, he was Uncle Walter, or he was Uncle Bootsy, and to others he was Uncle Brother. Each name was near and special to our hearts. He was a dedicated, dependable hard worker who believed in keeping a job. Walter was employed at Trick Trailer Company on Stenton Ave for 30 years and Morgan House Hill Tower for 19 years until he was forced to retire at the age of 90 in 2013.
David Larry Reed, Jr., and (niece-in-law) Mae Lois Reed became the caregivers for their uncle. When Larry passed on November 25, 2020, Mae remained his caregiver, until his passing, as age began to limit him physically, more and more. His nieces Sharlean (Reed) Brawner and Janice (Reed) Smith also made some contributions to his needs through the years. Walter was not a church going or religious man by today’s standards, but he never failed to thank and praise God for his life, family, and longevity. Although he didn’t want it; Walter Reed, Jr., you were a Hero to us, and we are enormously Proud to have had you for so long as a part of our family and this world: An Honorable, Brave, Decorated WWII Veteran.
Pre-deceased (wife) Nanna B. Reed, (parents) Walter Reed, Sr., and Marion E. Reed, (siblings) Marion E. Reed, Martha Reed, David Reed, Sr., Flossie Reed, Paul Reed, James Reed, six nephews and four nieces.
He leaves to cherish his memory: his youngest brother, Robert Eugene Reed, Sr., two nephews, ten great nephews, twenty-five great-great nephews, six great-great-great nephews, and three (nephews-in-law); eight nieces, nineteen great nieces, seventeen great-great nieces, two great-great-great nieces, seven (nieces-in-law), neighbors, and a host of friends.