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Serving in the line of duty

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1 2010 3:22 p.m. MST

Elder Lance B. Wickman, standing in front of a tank, completed two tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army Ranger officer.

L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University,

World War II

President Thomas S. Monson

Thomas S. Monson, now president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined the United State Naval Reserve and within a few weeks time, the war ended in Europe. A few months later the war also saw an end in the Pacific. Through important, his time in the service was short, being less than a year from the beginning of active duty.

"You hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, Tom. Give me a blessing, please."

At the San Diego Naval Training Station, Thomas S. Monson knelt by the side of his suffering shipmate and heard his plea. Tom had been ordained an elder at 18, just before he left to serve his country in the Navy during World War II. In great humility he laid his hands on the young man's head, and with 200 sleepy-eyed recruits looking on he gave him a blessing. The next day the young many was able to go about his normal duties.

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," page 365)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

The future member of the Quorum of the Twelve served as an infantryman in the United States Army. He fought in the battle of Okinawa and was part of the occupation force in Japan after the war.

"My only surviving aunt said that sometime in May of 1945, she doesn't remember the day, Mother had told her the next day that she and Dad had prayed their usual vocal prayer and included me, of course, and my sisters. Then they got into bed and began to go to sleep, and Mother said, 'Clarence, we've got to get out of bed and pray again; Neal is in grave danger.' And so they got out of bed and prayed again for me. I don't know which day that was, but I rather imagine, given time zones and all of that, it would have probably been when Japanese artillery shelling occurred at its worst stage. The phrase that comes to mind from the Book of Mormon is about some other young men who went off to war and (what) they (said) was, 'We do not doubt our mothers knew it.' I don't have any doubt that my mother knew intuitively that they needed to pray. Such parenting … is what I hope our young men and women experience, because they will be at times in great danger, too."

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," page 358)

President Boyd K. Packer

A young Boyd K. Packer, now president of the Quorum of the Twelve, enlisted in the United States Air Force in the spring of 1943. He was trained to fly bombers and was assigned as a pilot in the Pacific. Boyd was stationed with the American occupation forces in Japan for nearly a year. During that time, he was instrumental in baptizing the first Japanese family that joined the LDS Church after the war.

Boyd K. Packer's brother, Col. Leon C. Packer, was a much decorated pilot who became a brigadier general in the Air Force. Before Boyd left for the war in the Pacific, he visited with his brother in Washington, D.C. He asked his brother how he kept himself together in dangerous situations. His brother replied that he had a hymn he would sing to himself, and the hymn would sustain him and help him stay on the course. In the following account, Boyd shares a time when his brother's advice helped him through a dangerous situation.

"In the spring of 1945 I was able to test that lesson Leon had taught me those months before. The war in the Pacific ended before we reached the Philippines, and we were ordered to Japan. One day we flew out of Atsugi airfield near Yokohama in a B-17 bomber bound for Guam to pick up a beacon light. After nine hours in the air, we flew down through the clouds to find ourselves hopelessly lost. Our radio was out. We were, as it turned out, in a typhoon. Flying just above the ocean, we began a search pattern. In that desperate situation, I remembered the words of my brother. I learned that you can pray and even sing without making a sound. After some time we pulled up over a line of rocks jutting out of the water. Could they be part of the chain of Mariana Islands? We followed them. Soon Tinian Island loomed ahead, and we landed within literally seconds of fuel in the tank. As we headed down the runway, the engines one by one stopped."

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," pages 373-375)

Elder L. Tom Perry

Six weeks after returning from his mission, he determined that he would volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps. The current member of the Quorum of the Twelve was with the first occupation troops that entered Japan.

"I was among the first wave of Marines to go ashore in Japan after the signing of the peace treaty following World War II. Entering the devastated city of Nagasaki was one of the saddest experiences of my life. A large part of the city had been totally destroyed. Some of the dead had not yet been buried. As occupation troops, we set up headquarters and went to work.

"The situation was very bleak, and a few of us wanted to give more. We went to our division chaplain and requested permission to help rebuild the Christian churches. Because of government restrictions during the war, these churches had almost ceased to function. Their few buildings were badly damaged. A group of us volunteered to repair and replaster these chapels during our off duty time so they would be available for the holding of Christian services again.

"We had no command of the language. All we could accomplish was the physical labor of repairing the buildings. We found the ministers who had been unable to serve during the war years and encouraged them to return to their pulpits. We had a tremendous experience with these people as they again experienced the freedom to practice their Christian beliefs.

"An event occurred as we were leaving Nagasaki to return home that I will always remember. As we were boarding the train that would take us to our ships to return home, we were teased by a lot of the other marines. They had their girlfriends with them saying good-bye to them. They laughed at us and indicated that we had missed the fun of being in Japan. We had just wasted our time laboring and plastering walls.

"Just as they were at the height of their teasing, up over a rise near the train station came about 200 of these Japanese Christians from the churches we had repaired, singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' They came down and showered us with gifts. Then they all lined up along the railroad track, and as the train started down the tracks, we reached out and just touched their fingers as we left. We couldn't speak; our emotions were too strong. But we were grateful we could help in some small way in reestablishing Christianity in a nation after the war."

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," pages 379-381)

Elder A. Theodore Tuttle

The future general authority and member of the Seventy was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima and in the raising of the American flag at Mount Suribachi. The following is his account of the flag raising.

"On D-Day we watched the naval bombardment of the island the last four of five hours from our ship and later from the LST (landing ship tank), we were changed to. It seemed no more than a practice problem, and sailing around in the rendezvous area, we could see the whole drama right before us. I had a feeling of expectancy of something big yet undesirable, this being my first actual battle where an enemy would be shooting at me; yet I wasn't nervous physically.

"All I could see was smoke and exploding bombs. Hard to image that there could be anything alive on the island. There were no shells coming our way, and it looked as though it was all in our favor.

"A 90-millimeter mortar hit our alligator (amphibious tractor) and tore off or bent the track. The right track still functioning pulled us a little farther, but we were still in the water. We had trouble in getting the ramp down in the rear of the boat. I stepped out in about three feet of water, turned around the side of the boat and started for the shore just as a huge breaker hit me and sent me down under the weight of my pack.

"The beach was loose, volcanic ash sand and it was like trying to run uphill through a wheat bin with a 50-pound pack and other gear on my back. I struggled ahead and though it was difficult to walk, I finally gained a more suitable position by jumping in one shell hole after another whenever there wasn't too much mortar and machine gun fire. There were men all along the beach doing the same thing. …

"D-plus four we had practically all the resistance settled. Lieutenant Shrier took his platoon up the hill. In his backpack he had a small American flag, I will never forget the cheer Colonel Johnson gave when he saw Old Glory raised on that hill. He lifted his hat and cheered, and we all joined in with him. It was a small flag, not easily seen. The colonel turned to me and said, 'Tuttle, go down to the ship and get a large battle flag.'

"I made my way to one of the ships, went abroad and asked an ensign for a large battle flag. Since I had no identification or insignia showing, he wondered who I was. I said, 'If you want to be able to see a flag on the top of that mountain you will bring me one.' When he went for it, I found the galley and filled my jacket with apples and sandwiches. One can imagine I was immediately popular with the men on my return. … In a few minutes, I returned with a large battle flag.

"On returning to the field, I asked the colonel whether I should take the flag up. He said yes, and I started up when he called me back and said, 'No, I will send it with a runner who is taking fresh batteries up for the walkie-talkies.' I gave the flag to Cpl. Gagnon. He was one of the men who helped raise it on Mount Suribachi. Joe Rosenthal was on hand to take a picture which became famous. …

"After the island of Iwo Jima was secured and we were all sailing to Kwajalein, we received a radio message, read by the communications officer, to the effect that if there were any survivors of the flag-raising picture they were to get off and go to Washington. Consequently, they were taken off and returned to the States to sell war bonds. I discovered no atheists in foxholes."

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," pages 401-404)

Elder Robert L. Backman

Drafted on June 10, 1944, Robert L. Backman was assigned to the 43rd Division in the U.S. Army after it had taken severe losses. This future general authority and current emeritus Seventy served as a Latter-day Saint group leader during the war.

"I did not know how many Latter-day Saints there were in the 43rd Division. I had no way of finding out from my position. One day the chief chaplain of that division, a Catholic, came to our particular sector and visited. His assistant was a Latter-day Saint from Salt Lake City, Keith Wallace. I told him I had been appointed a group leader and did not know if there were any Latter-day Saints in the group. Keith arranged for me to meet with the chaplain who said, 'Let's find out. I'll help you organize a meeting so your people can have their religious service that they need to have.' That dear man really helped us. He publicized the meeting throughout the division, reporting that there would be an LDS service held on Easter morning at the rear command post.

"Easter morning came, I did not know what to expect, how many men we would have, or if anybody would come. I arrived at the rear command post and found a bombed-out house. The only thing standing were the walls. But it gave us a little bit of privacy. I scrounged some ammunition boxes and formed a pulpit and sacrament table from those. I found some spent shell casings and some little wild flowers that had survived all the battles, and set them up for a little bit of atmosphere. We had a field organ, which I played. I waited impatiently to see how many would come.

"Then trucks started coming in. By the time we had our service, they had come directly from combat and their foxholes. They were dirty and unshaven. They had their combat gear, ammunition belts, canteens, steel helmets and their rifles. They got off those trucks and rather than have them carry their weapons inside the house, we had them stack them outside the walls. They sat on their steel helmets, because that was the only thing they had to sit on. We enjoyed one of the most spiritual services I have ever attended in my life.

"Some of those men had not been in a Latter-day Saint service since they left home. A number of them had gone astray. I will never forget, as we partook of the sacrament, the priests knelt at the table and could not get through the prayers because they were so emotional about it. I watched some of the men who acted as deacons, tears coursing down their cheeks as they passed the sacrament in our mess gear to the congregation and those receiving it feeling the same spirit, tears in their eyes. After singing some hymns, praying, and partaking of the sacrament, we turned it into a testimony meeting. I do not know when I have heard more fervent testimonies. Men who on the spot repented of things they had done and said, 'This is going to change my life just by having this association, singing these songs and feeling this fellowship, an renewing my covenants with the Lord.'

"It was one of those experiences I will never forget. I think that was the highlight of anything that happened to me in the war."

("Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II," pages 250-251)

Elder F. Enzio Busche

Elder F. Enzio Busche was born April 5, 1930, in Dortmund, Germany. His parents were not members of the LDS Church, but they were great examples of honesty, righteousness and integrity to Enzio and his four sisters. Though occurring during desperate conditions, his childhood was full of love. He was drafted into the German Army at the age of 14. The experiences of his early life and the war left him a deep and burning desire to know the true meaning of life. This desire and yearning did not solve his dilemma; in fact, it made both his wife and him rather frustrated since it was not all they thought it could be. When American missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on his door, he couldn't turn them away. Elder Busche and his wife were baptized in 1958. He was soon called as the Dortmund branch president and later served as a district president and regional representative. He was called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1977 and is now an emeritus Seventy.

"One must understand that in Germany everyone was invested in a new future, a new view of the future. We had an organization; it was called the Hitler Youth. We were educated to believe we were building a perfect world, that the corruption would be taken away, that all of the promiscuity would be taken away, that the family would become the center of life, and that the people would care for each other.

"After World War I, Germany had the feeling that they were not treated right … Everything looked like chaos, and then came the chaos of an inexperienced democratic government … And finally the chaos of hunger came. Eight million people, without resources, were just walking through the streets shouting with hunger.

"People were just looking for something to hold onto, something to look forward to. And there came along an organization that said, 'We will build a new society, which will be righteous and honest and decent and it will give you employment and you will have a decent salary so you can feed your family.' It was not difficult to understand that people liked the idea of to have order and a system back in place.

"Therefore, when I was drafted at 14, I felt honored! I could do something to protect the Fatherland and to establish this order of righteousness, honesty and decency. I was ready to go and march and do whatever it took to make it happen. It was the last weeks of the war, and there was a group of about 30 of us. Our leader was maybe two years older, but he looked like an adult to us. … We got all the guns and ammunition that was all new. We never shot them — we could hardly even carry them, they were so heavy. Then, of course, the reality sank in, because as we left our training, we were chased. We saw the burnings and the destruction and the pain of people dying and people being hurt and the cities being burned. It was chaos, and suddenly we no longer had the same feelings of wanting to defend, but of how we could get out of the mess. … I could see that things were not exactly how I dreamed them to be and that the people who were our leaders were sometimes as wicked as anyone.

"Especially one thing I have not forgotten. We were marching, always running away. We did not want to be shot at, and we didn't want to shoot, so we were just running. We stayed overnight in a barn in a little village. One of my buddies was not there in the evening. Nobody knew where he was, but we knew his grandmother lived in this same village, and so we thought he might have escaped to see her.

"The next morning I awoke to a terrible scream from a little boy. I will never forget that scream. We found out that it was my buddy who had been hanged from a tree in front of his grandmother's house by the SS for desertion. This cruelty brought me to a state of awakening, and I began to see and understand what was happening. There was such panic in my soul that yes, these things were real, not like a novel or poetry, but were real. I didn't know where my father was. I didn't know what happened to my mother and my sisters. I was all by myself. I had no money or resources, and I had no idea what my future would be. I was realizing I needed help, and at this time, though I was not religious, I began to feel like someone was putting his arms around me and helping me make it through another hour and another day. With all the dangers that came later, with being captured and becoming a prisoner of war, I always had that feeling, not to worry, that everything would be okay.

"I was finally captured by Americans, and I could see immediately that I loved Americans. And this was true of all the Germans; they wanted to be captured by the Americans. … I had always felt, even in my childhood, that America was a different country. I smelled something of agency. I have always had a deep love for agency, for freedom of expression, for freedom from any false influence. I saw it confirmed with the Americans that took us prisoner.

"I was in the camp for three weeks, and then they let us come and raise our hand and swear we would never fight again. We were so ready to swear that. They gave us a sheet of paper as a group of about 30 or 40 and told us we could go home. Since I could speak a little English, I was the spokesman for our group. I asked some American soldiers for help in finding us transportation. They looked at us and told us they would see what they could do. They stopped a truck driving by and told them to take us on their way. My desire to learn more of their country was growing as I saw their openness, the light, the friendliness, the kindness, and that they had no prejudices against us. They looked at us as human beings as they were themselves. I was interested in learning about the people who had raised them like this. This later was a strong motivation for me when American missionaries came to our door. I could not send them away, because I wanted to learn more from them, from their country. … It took me two years to study this all by myself, taking the time to really learn and understand. When I really got the feeling that it could be true, then the change in my own life began."

("German Saints at War," Pages 5-8)

Korean War

Elder Russell M. Nelson

The future apostle served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. For much of the war, Elder Nelson was assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center. He also made a tour of all mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) Units in South Korea during the summer of 1951. In addition, he made recommendations for improved medical care for injured soldiers. His tour of MASH units took him right to the battlefront. He is now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

"As I came to one mobile army surgical hospital one of the doctors who knew I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked me if I would be willing to see a Mormon boy who'd been hit in the spine with a missile. He was a paraplegic; wouldn't ever use his legs again and so as I was introduced to this young man, he could see that I didn't know what to say. I greeted him and expressed condolences and love as best I could and he said, 'Oh don't worry about me, Brother Nelson. I know why I am here. And I don't use my legs to work out my salvation. I do that with my faith.'

"I learned a lot from that young man. He was under age. He was not even old enough to be an elder, but there he was with great faith facing a future of inability to use his lower extremities. I often wonder what ever happened to that wonderful young man who taught me a lot about faith."

("Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam," pages 120-121)

Vietnam War

Elder Lance B. Wickman

Elder Wickman served in the U.S. Army from 1964-69. During that time he completed two tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army Ranger officer assigned first as an infantry platoon leader and next as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. For his service he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. He served in the First Quorum of the Seventy and is now and emeritus Seventy.

"It is difficult to describe the emotions associated with service in the infantry in the jungles and rice paddies. Potential danger lurked in every tree line, stand of bamboo and around every turn in a jungle trail. These dangers were exacerbated by the heat, humidity, snakes, insects and the green tapestry that enveloped and entangled us. Although the standard tour of duty was 12 months, the infantry soldier quickly learned that it might just as well have been forever. He learned rather quickly that for the infantryman the only time that matters is here and now. Even tomorrow often seems far distant.

"It was early November 1966. I had been in country for nearly 10 months. Our battalion had spent several weeks in the field and had just returned to our base camp for a period of rest and relaxation. It was Saturday night and having just taken our first shower in many days, we were sitting on our bunks cleaning our weapons and listening to music on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Suddenly, an urgent message was received at our battalion headquarters in the jungle. Our battalion was needed to go to the rescue immediately.

"In my case, that feeling of anxiety that is more or less one's constant companion in the combat zone ripened into a dark sense of foreboding. However, there was no time for reflection or a kneeling prayer. We had to grab our weapons and equipment and go. As we moved out through the entrance to our base camp, I uttered a silent prayer in my heart. As I did so, there came to my mind — literally — a still small voice. It was as clear as crystal, and it spoke the words to a passage of scripture that I had first memorized as a seminary student and then later as a full-time missionary. It is found in Proverbs 3:5-6: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.' No sooner did that voice come into my mind than the sense of foreboding vanished. In its place was a warm reassurance of peace.

"Our battalion's night rescue mission lengthened into another extended operation that took us far from our base camp, almost to the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province. As the days and weeks went by, that experience with the Spirit was crowded to the back of my mind. Finally, it was the day of Thanksgiving 1966 — the last day we were to be in the field on that particular operation. I was riding in an armored personal carrier through a lightly forested area of jungle. Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion beneath the vehicle that seemed to lift it into the air. We had rolled over an enormous enemy land mine!

"The force of the explosion was so great that it blew the engine apart. It blew the tracks and all of the road wheels off both sides of the vehicle. The driver was blasted from the vehicle, landing some 15 or 20 feet in front of it. Everyone inside was wounded, including me, but no one was killed.

"No sooner did that land mine explode, than there again came to my mind the same voice and that same passage of scripture: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.'

"There was no question that my life was spared that day by divine intervention. More than that, this experience serves as one of the most profound in my life in testifying of the reality of God and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Now, as a Seventy and a general authority, I stand as an 'especial witness' (Doctrine and Covenants 107:25). I testify that I received an essential element of that witness on a jungle battlefield far from home on that November day in 1966."

("Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam," pages 451-454)

'Saints at War'

The "Saints At War" project invites veterans and civilians to share wartime accounts from any of the modern conflicts. To make a submission, visit Saintsatwar.org or call 801-422-2484.The LDS Church during World War II

 860,000 members worldwide

 Membership of the LDS Church in Germany ranked third.

 Approximately 100,000 Latter-day Saints served

 More than 5,000 Latter-day Saints died

 The SS Joseph Smith and the SS Brigham Young were World War II Liberty ships named for latter-day prophets.

 Latter-day Saint soldiers often wrote or painted gospel terms or symbols on planes, vehicles or equipment in an effort to meet other Mormons.

'Saints At War'

The "Saints At War" project invites veterans and civilians to share wartime accounts from any of the modern conflicts. To make a submission, visit Saintsatwar.org or call 801-422-2484.

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