Written by: Diana Matthews | Headshot by: Mark Steelman
Other photography provided by: John Reed
“I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing people become successful,” says John Reed. “I’m interested in the military and in helping businesses grow.”
His patriotism and business ability were both evident in 2015 when he chaired a five-day observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, attended by over a thousand participants in Wilmington. “We had venues all over town: a reception downtown, a picnic at Hugh McRae Park, a banquet. We had a remembrance ceremony and showed the film, To Heal a Nation. There was a concert at the convention center and breakfast on the battleship. It was the biggest program I’ve ever done.”
Reed’s next event is Friday, Oct. 13, the 11th American Eagle Awards, an invitation-only ceremony in Jacksonville. Five major Marine Corps commands in the eastern U.S. will come together to honor one service member from each command for heroism, proven leadership, or outstanding duty performance in special assignments.
The highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the John Archer LeJeune Award to one of the five honorees.
Sergeant First Class (Ret.) Reed has a record of leadership dating to the days when he was the oldest of eight children growing up in New Jersey.
“Our father was a foreman at Ford Motor Co.,” said Reed. “As a teenager, I had a job driving a delivery truck. When I graduated from high school, my father told me, ‘In September, you’ll need to make a choice. Go back to school or join the Army.’ September came, and I didn’t remember about the choice, but he did, and he took me to the recruiting station in Newark.” Soon Reed was on a train bound for basic training in Port Jackson, South Carolina.
His father’s advice to him as he left home was, “Don’t volunteer for anything.”
“My first duty assignment was in Vietnam from late 1963 to 1965,” Reed said. Pay was $75 a month in his non-combat assignment with a helicopter aviation battalion. When his commanding officers asked for volunteers to take on more hazardous duties at an additional $50 a month, Reed jumped at the job and was soon the gunner on a helicopter. We flew 164 missions, picking up dead and wounded, chasing Viet Cong, responding to attacks and carrying mail,” he said. His service those first years brought him a Bronze Star and two Army Commendation medals, which would be followed by more ribbons and medals during subsequent tours of duty in Vietnam, Germany, Greenland, and the U.S.
When he returned from Vietnam a second time in 1970, Reed said, “American society had changed. I
learned not to wear my uniform because people would spit on me. They called us baby-killers. I decided then that, if I ever got the chance, I would do something to improve that.”
He fell in love with Linda Henrichsen while in the U.S. between foreign assignments. “I got orders to Germany, and she cried because I had to leave her,” he said. “I told her, ‘I have no choice. I have to go.’ But I got to the end of her driveway and I was crying, too. I turned around and asked her to marry me right away so she could go to Germany with me.”
The young couple had their share of challenges, he said, such as the time he lost all their housing money in a poker game and they had to move in with friends for a month. Another time he made the mistake of questioning the quantity of groceries Linda was placing in their shopping cart. “She walked right out of the commissary and left me there to pay for it all. That was just part of learning,” he said.
Throughout his career, said Reed, he always looked for someone he could learn from or someone he could be a mentor to. In 1972 he was appointed to leadership within the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Association (NCOA), where he worked to improve the lives of military personnel. “I don’t want any member of the Armed Forces to be treated like we were,” he said.
Reed won numerous awards for his development work in the NCOA between 1972 and his retirement from the Army in 1983. The organization hired him to continue planning and promoting for them for another decade after that. He raised funds for Special Olympics and Purple Heart veterans and their widows through special events. He brought the first job fair to Camp LeJeune in 1988.
During the same period, Reed was part of Academy Insurance Group, where he built his team to 22 individuals working in two cities. In 1993 he was Academy’s World Manager of the Year.
He is now CEO and Executive Director of Mainstreet, a management consulting and business development firm serving 170 members, mostly small to medium size businesses. Mainstreet’s motto is: Paving the road to success. Some Mainstreet seminars are “Meeting the Challenges of Change,” “Teamwork,” and “Effective Sales Management.”
Reed is pleased to see today’s American society showing respect for the sacrifices and efforts of military people. Now, instead of abusing him, strangers buy him more beers than he can drink, he said. “I credit today’s military for changing people’s thinking and feelings. That’s why I do what I do.”