WWII vet deploys to 'enemy territory' & shares the Gospel for 42 years

by Carrie Blackaby, |

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Christian Examiner) --- In the wake of WWII, General Douglas MacArthur famously entreated Americans to send missionaries and Bibles to Japan to fill their "spiritual vacuum."

Rollin S. Reasoner answered that call.

Reasoner, now 89, is a WWII veteran who devoted more than four decades to missionary work in Japan after the war.

He grew up in New Brighton, Minn., where he worked on his father's farm.

His best friend, Roland Mosier, invited him to hear a traveling evangelist speak at a tent meeting in 1943. Reasoner, then 18, gave his life to Christ that night.

"After that, I knew in my heart I wanted to preach," Reasoner told Christian Examiner. "I was headed for the ministry, but I knew the war was on so that would have to wait."

The army rescinded Reasoner's farm deferment, and he was drafted in 1944 when he was 19. He went through basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and was sent from there to Fort Ord, Calif., then to the Pacific.

He was assigned to the Americal Division, 132nd Infantry, 'C' Company as a 1st scout.

"I felt the war was just," Reasoner said. "It had to be won."

Fellow soldiers dubbed him "the indefatigable Red," he said with a chuckle at the memory, because he was small, red-headed, and fiercely determined.

Nearly seven decades after the war, Reasoner can still recall the terror he felt in combat as a 19-year-old.

"One night I was talking with five or six others when the Japanese saw us and dropped a mortar shell right in the middle," Reasoner said. "It was what we called 'shell shock' back then. But I had to lead the group again the next morning."

Reasoner, like thousands of others soldiers, suffered internal wounds no medic could heal.

"I had a lot of trouble with nightmares after that. For me it lasted for 10 years, every night."

Reasoner's company fought in the battle for Cebu. He was on the front lines.

"I remember times when I knew I was going to be killed. I remember waking into a clearing to pick up a fellow who had been wounded and saying, 'today is the day I die,'" Reasoner said. "I wondered why God had chosen me to die at 19, but that's what it is."

Reasoner survived. Others were not so fortunate.

"My friend Roland Mosier said, 'The first day I go into combat I'm going to be killed.' It was the weirdest thing. On Iwo Jima, when their landing craft ramp was put down and they were to step off, he was shot right between the eyes. Never said a word. He was dead."

Reasoner was in Japan when the Japanese surrendered, but he was not allowed to return home for six months.

"I helped the chaplain," Resoner said. "One day he told me to go preach to the Japanese."

That night Reasoner and a few other GIs led a church service for the locals. They put up a sign that read, "Teaching about the Bible and the one true God."

Pretty soon Reasoner was preaching seven nights a week to an audience filled with young people.

"Every now and then God has spoken to me very clearly." Reasoner said. "One night God said to me, 'This is where you are to be a witness for me.' And I knew God had called me to be a missionary to Japan."

As an American soldier in WWII, Reasoner heard stories painting Japanese as evil and even sadistic. He spent over a year in fierce combat against them.

"But I kept thinking they can't be as bad as we all thought," Reasoner recalled, "There is a possibility God could get a hold of them."

After graduating from Wheaton College, he and wife, Esther, and baby daughter, Sara, packed up and returned to Japan, where they remained in missionary service for 42 years.

SEND International, the mission agency that today has commissioned more than 600 missionaries to unreached people groups in Asia, Europe, and North America, was birthed through Reasoner's mission work.

During his time in Japan, Reasoner said he grew to deeply love the Japanese people.

"I never in 42 years being in Japan found a former Japanese soldier I had trouble getting along with," Reasoner said.

After the devastation of WWII, Japan needed hope.

"We had a golden opportunity, and I was glad I was in on it."