Serving in the line of duty: President Boyd K. Packer

Published: Monday, Nov. 8 2010 6:00 a.m. MST

One in a series of experiences of LDS Church leaders who have served in the armed forces.

World War II

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."

* * *

The following story is authored by biographer Lucile Tate and occurred near Okinawa.

On Oct. 6, 1945, while awaiting orders and arrangements for transportation to Japan, Boyd and a few others went to Nara, south of Okinawa, for a conference of LDS servicemen. Later that evening they returned to the north end of Okinawa, expecting to take a boat back to their island. They learned, however, that all ships had been ordered to port because a hurricane was approaching. Boyd and his companions finally persuaded the commander of a PT boat to take them back to Ie Shima.

All bombers and other aircraft had been ordered to Saipan, Guam, or other islands that were out of the path of the storm. Finally landing, Boyd and his companions took shelter on the 40-foot coral cliff in tents that were fastened to it with every piece of metal they could find.

All that night and all day Monday the wind blew fiercely against the tents. Rain poured through the roofs and walls in a torrent. Waves from the sea ascended the cliff to within feet of them. On Tuesday, the eye of the hurricane passed over and calm returned for a short time, then hit again. The mess hall, built of 8-by-8 timbers set in concrete, was shorn off and blown away. Ships at sea were lost and many in port were wrecked and washed ashore. Cold and wet, shaken and sober, Boyd and his companions were safe. He and a few others held study classes, and on Sunday, they held a simple sacrament service.

"It was then," he says, "that the Book of Mormon became a very part of my soul."

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

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