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Lt. Shumway survived hate and despair on Guadalcanal to find love, light, hope and joy

By Shawn D. Moon

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Dec. 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Editor's note: Mormon Times asked for Christmas experiences from Mormon authors.

We knew him our entire lives as Uncle Phil, but in 1943, he was known as 2nd Lt. Richard Phil Shumway. Stationed with the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot on a small airstrip in Guadalcanal, Shumway was in the thick of the battle.

For years, the world had seen death and destruction at an unprecedented level. Millions of homes across the world faced a Christmas season with one fewer person at the table, a void that would never be filled. That Christmas Eve would be marked by bombing and strafing the Japanese enemy with intense ferocity that brought terrible results for both sides. Losses were heavy, and Shumway and his fellow soldiers concluded the day knowing that so many of their friends and companions were lost.

The overarching sentiment he felt that season would not have been described as "Joy to the World." There were no scenes of mangers or shepherds, no pageants or presents or jingle of holiday bells. There was barely a memory of past Christmases at home, with fading images of family and loved ones.

What did persist was the pervading presence of hate. The American soldiers hated the Japanese, they hated the Germans with equal fervor, they hated the heat and the humidity and the jungle.

After many frightful and devastating hours of bombing and evading enemy shells, squadron members, with the exception of Shumway, did the only thing they could think of to block out the horrors of the day — they drank until everyone in the squadron was reduced to a drunken and unconscious stupor.

As Shumway walked among the prostrate soldiers, the air filled with the stench of alcohol and sweat, he reviewed his situation. He felt nothing of the light of Christmas. What he felt was intense loneliness and the darkness of despair. Would this conflict ever end? Would he ever see his beautiful young wife again? Would he return to the safe and familiar confines of his home and family?

Of course, the war did end, and despite some harrowing experiences and narrow escapes, Shumway did return to the loving arms of his wife and the eager embraces of his family.

Years passed, and with the passing of years came further challenges and opportunities. Children, education, career and church service all helped round out his perspective and refinements.

Thirty years after his Guadalcanal Christmas, Uncle Phil found himself going with his wife to visit a beloved friend to deliver a holiday treat.

His friend had served in the German army, but as they left his home that evening, Uncle Phil and his wife remarked at how they had come to love this man.

The gospel of Jesus Christ (indeed, the real Spirit of Christmas) had not only softened both men's hearts over the years, it had instructed them. It had changed them.

Later that season, they repeated the holiday visit to another beloved neighbor, this man Japanese.

Love had replaced hate, light had replaced darkness, and hope and joy had replaced despair.

Uncle Phil is no longer with us, and his dear wife, my Aunt Nelda, is also gone. Their legacy, however, remains.

And we are reminded at Christmastime of the brightness of hope, and the light of the gospel, and the power of the phrase, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Here are more Christmas experiences from Mormon authors:

"Finding Jesus in the nativity" by Emily Freeman

"Finding Christmas bliss" by Lisa Mangum

"The kitty cat Christmas" by Karen Tuft

"Woman received gift of music one Christmas season" by Michele Ashman Bell

"Discovering the gift of giving" by Josi Kilpack

Shawn D. Moon is an executive vice president at FranklinCovey. He is the author of the book "On Your Own: A Young Adults' Guide to Making Smart Decisions" and the recently released "Bill's Christmas Legacy."

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