LDS Church members are taught to value freedom and to believe in defending it, but the heroes who help maintain that freedom can be forgotten.
Melanie Davis, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has created a book centered on war veterans titled “The Triumph Book: Heroes.” The book contains accounts from war veterans spanning the last 70 years. These veterans share their achievements, but they also share the struggles they had to work through as a result of their service — such as unemployment, post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness — upon returning home.
The book is to increase awareness, appreciation and support for veterans. As Davis pointed out, people often get caught up in the debate of a war and forget to support veterans, regardless of whether or not they support the war.
“I hope we don’t find that kind of passive-aggressive attitude toward our military,” Davis said. “I believe we appreciate them more in our religion because we read about war so much in the scriptures. The Book of Mormon is full of (wars), so clearly war is necessary. And those who serve for us need to be appreciated and loved.”
The book can also help veterans gain perspective and hope as they read about others who triumphed over struggles that are similar to their own.
Surprisingly, these struggles are more common than one might think.
“Our veterans are dying right now at a rate of 18 veteran suicides a day — that’s not an exaggeration — with 950 attempts a month,” Davis said. “And those are just the ones we know about.That’s how severely they’re struggling."
Davis also said the veteran unemployment rate has reached 33 percent in the United States. When these veterans come home, they often either cannot find jobs or they receive very low-paying jobs and are treated as unskilled workers.
Unfortunately, the skills veterans spent months and years cultivating, such as being a machine gunner, do not translate particularly well into the civilian workforce, and lacking collegiate degrees also adds to their difficulties.
These are factors that contribute to Davis’s passion for garnering support for these veterans. Until she interviewed these veterans, Davis said she was unaware of the great challenges they had.
Davis expressed gratitude to U.S. veterans, and said that they are willing to literally die for us — just like Jesus Christ was.
“That’s pretty profound when you stop and think about it,” she said.
“The Triumph Book: Heroes" contains a few stories from LDS Church members, including one from Mark Forester.
Forester, from Alabama, was a fallen hero who died in Afghanistan while trying to save a friend. His beliefs shine through clearly in the book as others talk about how Forester would toast with water, rather than alcohol, and how he never swore — an accomplishment that is almost unheard of in the military.
Davis refers to Forester as a “modern-day Moroni.”
“Everybody who talked about him said he was just amazing,” she said. “It’s hard for me to even put into words just what an exceptional person he was and what can come through his story. His death makes his story so profound. He died rescuing his friend.”
Kenneth Earl Beatty, Jr., also a LDS Church member, served in the Navy during the Cold War and tells his story in Davis’ book.
While he was away from his small family during his service, he and his wife wrote letters to each other. While the nuclear submarine Beatty had worked on was being decommissioned in 2007, a young man found Beatty’s stack of letters aboard. He contacted Beatty about the letters shortly thereafter.
It was a fun surprise for Beatty when he later received these letters full of “sweet sentiments from (his) wife,” which he had previously presumed were lost.
Davis’s great uncle, J. Wiley Hansen, who served in the air force, was a prisoner of war during World War II. He has since died, but his story has been preserved in the Davis family and is included in “The Triumph Book: Heroes.”
Davis said that until we know these veterans’ stories, they are just statistics. Reading their stories, however, will create sympathy and concern for those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their county.
The campaign is intended to increase appreciation for U.S. veterans and to meet critical needs of veterans campaigns to aid veteran unemployment and problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Davis’ book is available at the triumphbookheroes.com. Davis has begun writing her next book in the Triumph series, “Heroes Too,” which will focus on the families of those who are serving our country. Those who wish to contribute stories for her next book should be sent to Melanie@LoveYourVeterans.org.
Kaylene Morrill is a freelance writer and is studying journalism at Brigham Young University.