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Author Darrell Reeck grew up close to Fort Lewis and McChord

Former DuPont resident, UPS professor recalls Tacoma of his youth

Darrell Reeck. Courtesy photo

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It's hard to think of Tacoma as a frontier town. We think of it as Grit City, the City of Destiny, T-town. It's a working-class hub of industry and art, not an outpost.

But in the early-to-mid part of the 20th century, Tacoma, multi-cultural and economically booming, was a frontier for many of its immigrant families.

Darrell Reeck, Ph.D., a former DuPont resident and University of Puget Sound professor, was born in Tacoma in 1939 to parents who had emigrated from Spokane. He recounts his experiences growing up in Pierce County during and after World War II in his recently released memoir, Growing Green Two Ways!

Billed as an "intimate, powerful memoir of growing up in the Pacific Northwest when it still had the characteristics of a frontier society," the book highlights Reeck's childhood in Tacoma's Oakland Park neighborhood and the family members, friends, teachers and mentors who influenced him.

Then, like now, Tacoma was a city touched by war.

"The years between 1938 and 1946 saw a huge growth of military activities and business activities, such as boat building, related to the military buildup," Reeck said. "My parents regularly listened to the radio for war news and for names of local men who'd been called up for the draft. The war was close - as close as the family radio."

His family wasn't involved in the military effort directly (although his father was a member of the National Guard), but Reeck said Tacomans felt safe knowing the military was near.

"The Army presence was appreciated by citizens during the war years," he noted," partly because it was felt that Tacoma and the surrounding area was vulnerable to attack. A second Pearl Harbor could happen anywhere around Puget Sound. To protect themselves, towns in the area held blackout drills. ... Locals believed that forces from Ft. Lewis and McChord would protect us if we were attacked. Because of the fear of attack, troops were welcome in the community in the early 1940s."

Forging friendships

During this time, he and his family also met - and remained lifelong friends with - a few local servicemembers.

"Soldiers came into Tacoma, where my family lived, for recreation, especially on weekends," Reeck recalled. "A percentage attended church services, where my parents met them and invited them home for a meal and a quiet afternoon of conversation and games. Sometimes this would extend into a weekend home stay. These soldiers brought a lot of joy into my life."

Reeck's parents were active in the Evangelical Church (Reeck himself is a United Methodist pastor and holds a doctorate in theology from Boston University), which may be why they opened their home to servicemembers.

"Undoubtedly my parents' motive was to give hospitality to these young men who were far from home," Reeck said. "But why these particular young men?  The social context is that they were members of the same church denomination (The Evangelical Church, now a part of The United Methodist Church through merger) and thus felt at home with each other."

His family formed a particularly close and lasting relationship with a soldier named Don, who was a frequent guest.  

Reeck remembers the city's sense of relief and elation when the war came to an end.

"When President Truman announced the end of the war in 1945, all of Tacoma, it seemed, gathered downtown to celebrate. My parents took me to Tacoma to join the community victory celebration. I remember downtown streets full of civilians and active-duty military personnel. Older people shook hands with soldiers; young women kissed them."

Lasting ties

Reeck moved to DuPont in 2000 with his wife, Lucy, but they left for the Oregon coast just last month to be closer to their daughter.

"I'm impressed at how the military families of DuPont support each other," he said. "The wear blue:  run to remember organization, which sponsors runs on Saturdays in honor of the fallen, is a great example. ... When I've run or walked with "wear blue," people have stopped me and asked, ‘Where were you stationed?  I've said, ‘No where. I wasn't military. After a pause I say, ‘I was in the army of God.'  I explain that I've been an ordained United Methodist minister since 1965. ‘Oh, I see,' they say, and give me a friendly smile."

Growing Green Two Ways! is available at in print and Kindle format. For more information, visit

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