“Honor your covenants and you’ll be protected,” said the voice that rang in JD Thornock’s ears as he looked out his window and realized he was only a few feet away from a roadside bomb sticking out of the ground.
“I thought it was over, and I heard Elder (David A.) Bednar’s voice in my head,” said Thornock, a junior studying business management.
Thornock is one of many Americans who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City by joining the military. Thornock’s interest in the military goes much deeper than the tragic attacks, however.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Thornock said. “It’s patriotic. I thought it was something I should do.”
Growing up, Thornock wanted to be a Navy SEAL, but after joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 10 and later serving a mission to Brazil, Thornock joined the Marines, where he served as a sergeant in the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance unit.
As his two little girls said goodnight with kisses and “I love yous,” Thornock related his experiences from the two years he served in the Middle East. He spoke thoughtfully of one experience when, during his year in Afghanistan, he was awarded a Purple Heart after his unit was blown up.
“My injuries weren’t terrible, but they merit a Purple Heart award,” Thornock said. “There are other guys that lose an arm or a leg and other limbs and they are going to be messed up for the rest of their lives. I don’t like to think I am in the same field as them as far as the award goes.”
Thornock’s legs were injured in the explosion, but he continues to remain active despite the irritation he experiences daily.
After losing seven men and seeing more than 23 injured, he had moments where he thought all hope was gone and it was just a matter of time until his number was pulled. His perspective on life has changed because of the experiences he has had and the influence of the gospel in his life.
Thornock’s passion and desire inspired him to join the Marines, even though he was told by family and friends to not get involved.
“I always think of Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon,” Thornock said. “He was away from family for how long, fighting for what he believed in, for what was right: family, country, religion, for his God. He is looked at as a hero. What an amazing guy.”
Not everyone interested in joining the Marines is accepted. Thornock said because he is a member of the LDS Church, he was sometimes ridiculed and treated harshly. He doesn’t take it personally but looks at it as a learning experience.
“This is a sacred holy land that is blessed. We need to protect that. (The Marines) need solid good men to fight our country’s battle. They need good men that are strong physically, spiritually and mentally.”
Though he is still dealing with the physical and mental stress from his service, Thornock has no regrets.
The fear of losing one’s life in the service of your country is a realistic issue for people like Thornock.
He believes that by always doing his best and staying close to the Spirit, his life was spared.
“Heavenly Father was watching over us. I can see (his) hand in many things. I’m stronger from having those experiences,” Thornock said.
Thornock’s wife, Laura, has also seen the hand of the Lord in her life. She had both their girls while Thornock was deployed, but looked at it as a blessing since she was able to focus her energies on her daughters rather than on how her husband was away.
“I worry. It’s scary, but I am proud of JD for what he’s done,” Laura said.
Now that Thornock is out of the Marines and a full-time student at BYU-Idaho, he and Laura are living a normal life.
“Just through prayer it was clear: we need to go to BYU-Idaho,” Thornock said. “I love going to school here. Being here has been more therapeutic for any of the stress I have than any of the counseling. I don’t know what the ‘Spirit of Ricks’ thing is that they always talk about, but something is here. It’s definitely a strong presence.”
Hilary Owens is working toward a bachelor's in communication with an emphasis in journalism from BYU-Idaho. In her spare time, she loves to travel, spend time with family and work on a book she hopes to have published one day.